on July 1, 2004
Although Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are better known today, James M. Cain (1892-1977) is at least their equal--and many consider that he bested both in his finest novels, which combined sin-blacked characters, sordid plots, terse prose, and all the power of a blast furnace. This anthology collects all three of his landmark novels as well as several short stories, all of them showing Cain at the height of his powers.
Published in 1934, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE is the truly deadly story of a drifter who squirms his way into a job at a California truck stop--and then squirms his way into the bed of a sexy waitress. Trouble is, the waitress is married to the boss... and she doesn't like it, not one little bit. Dripping with lust, deception, and irony, POSTMAN is at once sickening and fascinating, a true powerhouse of a novel that festers long after the story has ended.
DOUBLE INDEMNITY, published in 1936, is equally hot--the tale of an insurance sales man who stays on the right side of the law until he is tempted by a psychopathic femme fatale who doesn't see anything wrong with picking up a few bucks on the unexpected death of her unwanted husband. MILDRED PIERCE, published in 1941, is equally memorable in its portrait of a driven housewife with a wayward husband who discovers that she will do absolutely anything for her vicious, serpentine daughter.
All three novels have been famously filmed, but while the film versions (most created during the 1940s) stand well on their own, the novels out distance them in nothing flat. Cora, begging Frank to bite her lips until they bleed; Phyllis with lipstick splashed across her mouth like a bleeding gash; sleek Monte and his viper-like stepdaughter Veda--all portraits of reckless abandon so powerful that they blister the page.
The volume also includes five hard-to-find Cain stories that are often as memorable as the best of his novels, most notably I think "The Baby in the Ice Box" and "Brush Fire." But whether it is novels or his shorter works, you simply can't go wrong when it comes to the best of James M. Cain. Welcome to the inferno. Brace yourself for the straight-down ride.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer