Showing posts with label James Cain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Cain. Show all posts

Monday, March 13, 2023

Double Indemnity

James M. Cain hit a homerun with his femme fatale crime-fiction novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. The bestselling novel was adapted to film seven times, converted into an opera, a radio drama and a play. It is considered one of the best novels of the 20th century. So, how would Cain ever top it? Well, he really never did, but he came really close with Double Indemnity. This novel was originally published in Liberty in 1936. The book was later published in 1943 in the collection Three of a Kind, an omnibus containing Double Indemnity as well as two additional works by Cain, Career in C Major and The Embezzler

Like The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity is told in the first-person as a sort of “if you are reading this then I'm in the deathhouse” kind of book. The protagonist is Walter Huff, an insurance agent in Beverly Hills. Like Cain's character Frank Chambers, Huff is a strategist who helps plot a murder when he falls for a young seductress named Phyllis. The problem is that Phyllis is married to a wealthy guy named Nirdlinger, one of Huff's clients. After Huff falls for Phyllis, the two collaborate on knocking Nirdlinger off to cash in on an accident policy. 

Like most of the femme fatale novels, which Cain perfected for similar novelists like Gil Brewer and Orrie Hitt, the murder plan develops into treachery, jealousy, lust, greed, and plain 'ole lyin' and cheatin'. The murder hits a major snag when Huff learns that Phyllis may have played him for a fool in hopes to run away with another guy. But, Huff gains some insight through Phyllis's gorgeous stepdaughter, whom he ultimately falls in love with. 

This book is rather short, but packs a punch. The gauntlet that Huff runs from A to Z in hopes to successfully murder for love, then backtrack to kill for vengeance is clever, compelling, and masterfully written. It's a tug-of-war as Huff clamors with the concept of murder, the ultimate sin. There's a deep mystery centralized as the narrative rotates different characters off the playing field. Who is truly innocent is one of the book's most perplexing questions. But, thankfully Cain keeps the characters to a minimum, keeping the plot development tight as the story expands outward into a brisk “man on the run” concept. 

Double Indemnity was adapted to film in 1944 by mystery powerhouse novelist Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder. It was filmed again in 1973 and staged as a play in 2011. It's a prevalent bookend that butts up nicely with The Postman Always Rings Twice. While inferior to that masterpiece, Double Indemnity is still a mandatory read for any crime-fiction fan worth his salt. Highly recommended! 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Monday, January 30, 2023

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Paperback Warrior attempts to dive into the dusty, neglected shelves of used book stores and flea markets to bring attention to books that went unnoticed during their publication or author's life. Mostly, that is well received and remains the mainframe of our content and fan base. However, sometimes we hit the books that are absolute classics, mainstream literary works that have received a large consumer response and accolades. While these popular novels are well-worn topics in review circles, they remain “new” to us. There are hundreds upon hundreds of novels that we haven't read that are all mainstream classics. Like, The Postman Always Rings Twice, arguably the catalyst for noir-fiction.

Author James Cain (1892-1977) burst on the writing scene in 1930 with Our Government, a collection of satirical stereotypes of governments. This was a microscopic debut compared to his wildly popular 1934 work of crime-fiction, The Postman Always Rings Twice. The novel became an instant hit, made Cain a notable author, and spawned seven film adaptations. One could consult any number of crime-fiction references and follow any rabbit hole to learn more about this novel and author, but here's my take on this influential classic:

The novel begins when drifting menace, and first-person narrator, Frank Chambers is kicked off of a train in rural southern California. He stumbles upon a diner, orders a bunch of food, and tells the dive's owner, a Greek named Nick, that his friend is coming to meet him for lunch and to pick up the bill. This is a lie, of course, but Nick sees something in Frank that he likes and offers him a job working on cars on the same lot at the restaurant. Frank takes the job after glancing at Nick's wife Cora, a cook and waitress at the restaurant.

One thing leads to another and Frank successfully seduces Cora. In secret, the two engage in a sexual relationship, and plan on running away after killing Nick. It all seems to go as planned until a black cat throws a crinkle into the dubious plot. After the first murder attempt is foiled, the duo plan another, more elaborate plot involving a car accident and liquor. This one leads to interaction with rival, yet friendly attorneys that pit Cora and Frank against one another.

Cain's novel is simplistic, literary ecstasy. The entanglement of these two characters, the miserable wife Cora, no longer complacent with her unhappy marriage, and small-timer Frank, destined to remain on the wrong side of the tracks, slowly unravels in a frenzy of jealousy, rage, and sex. Each of the three characters, innocent 'ole Nick included, are dynamic characters that remain a fixture in the reader's mind long after the last morbid pages are read.

In many ways, The Postman Always Rings Twice surely influenced the paperback original novelists that thrived off of the femme fatale sub-genre of crime-noir – Gil Brewer and Orrie Hitt. I'm not sure if a lot of the vintage paperback crime-noir novels populating my shelves and this blog even exist without Cain's masterpiece. Worthy of a legacy? Yes indeed. Highest possible recommendation.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.