Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cain, James M: The Cocktail Waitress

One of the three great crime writers of the 1930s, Cain outlived Hammett and Chandler to die in
1977 with this novel unpublished.   He had been working on it for years, adding and deleting passages, sentences and phrases and, with his death, the novel disappeared.   References to it led
to Charles Ardai carrying out a lengthy search which eventually produced a typewritten copy with
corrections which he has edited for publication in 2012.   Cain was always looked on as the less
polished of the trio and was consigned by many to the trash can because he wrote about people on
the edge of society rather than the supposed moral middle- and upper-class ones in the novels of
Hammett and Chandler.   Works such as 'Double Indemnity','Mildred Pierce' and 'The Postman
Always Rings Twice' were made into highly considered films, the latter twice in the USA and once
in Italy but the nature of his characters coloured critical views of his work, tending to be censorious
and dismissive of his talents.   While the books might have appealed to the prurient, their impact
these days is anything but that.   This book is the story of a young mother whose abusive husband
kills himself by driving while drunk.   The marriage was a forced one with his parents never approving of her; after his death, she lets her sister-in-law take care of her son while she gets things
together.   With no skills, she gets a job as a cocktail waitress where she meets an elderly widower
who falls in love with her and also a young man who had driven her to the funeral and now lusts
after her.    Eventually she agrees to marry the widower who turns out to be wealthy: his heart
condition should preclude sexual activity but he finds a new doctor who tells him this is not a
problem.   However, having successfully had sex with an escort girl once he repeats the exercise
but dies.   The local police have already shown an interest in the heroine after her first husband's
death and now arrest her on a murder charge as there are suspicious circumstances.   Before the
arrest, she gives in to the attraction of the young chauffeur and spends the night with him but
leaves him before he wakes up.   In the end, justice is done.   The writing is possibly not as taut
as my memory recalls in his earlier works but this does not detract from the pace of the tale.   Some
of the episodes seem unnecessary but do help build a picture of both the heroine and those around
her.   The book is not as long as many current crime novels and all the better for it.

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