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Double Indemnity Paperback – May 14, 1989

ISBN-13: 978-0679723226 ISBN-10: 0679723226 Edition: Reprint
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Editorial Reviews Review

When smalltime insurance salesman Walter Huff meets seductive Phyllis Nirdlinger, the wife of one of his wealthy clients, it takes him only minutes to determine that she wants to get rid of her husband--and not much longer to decide to help her do it. Walter knows that accident insurance pays double indemnity on railroad mishaps, so he and Phyllis plot frantically to get Nirdlinger on--and off--a train without arousing the suspicions of the police, the insurance company, Nirdlinger's dishy daughter, her mysterious boyfriend, or Nirdlinger himself. This brief but complex novel is a perfect example of the ordinary-guy-gone-disastrously-wrong story that Cain always pulls off brilliantly.


'[A] fine idea for a series... They already have a superb noir backlist. but adding Philip K Dick's Minority Report and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? improves the mix.' SCOTSMAN --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 115 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 14, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679723226
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679723226
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #100,421 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Westley VINE VOICE on July 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
Walter Huff is a pretty decent and basically honest insurance salesman, until he meets Phyllis Nirdlinger, the wife of a successful California businessman. Phyllis isn't the most attractive woman, but she's a true seductress. Huff immediately knows that Phyllis will be trouble, but he can't resist her, and she quickly involves him in a plot to kill her husband. Things become even more complicated when Phyllis' step-daughter, Lola, enters the scene and bonds with Huff.
James M. Cain is one of the indisputable greats of crime noir novels, and he also wrote the terrific "The Postman Always Rings Twice." The plot is fast-moving, and I love Cain's stattaco writing style. He also includes so much great detail, such as the "blood red curtains" in Phyllis' living room. Further, Cain makes the action very believable and doesn't overlook any plot holes, which is not always the case in this genre. I really liked this book.
Having said that, I think that the movie (1944, directed by the peerless Billy Wilder) is even better than the book. I know that's blasphemous, but the movie is one of the all-time great American movies. Read the book and don't miss the movie either!
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Dash Manchette VINE VOICE on May 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
James Cain followed up his controversial THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE with another thin crime novel DOUBLE INDEMNITY. Like POSTMAN, it brings the reader into a world of moral indifference. In other words, it's great!

The action follows insurance agent Walter Huff, who has at some point come up with an insurance scheme to off a guy and collect the insurance. He discovers his partner in crime, Phyllis Nirdlinger, when she inquires about accident insurance for her husband. But this is James Cain writing. It is not going to be that easy, is it? You bet not.

Phyllis turns out to be way, waaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyy more dangerous than Walter ever imagined her to be. He learns too late that he is just one more patsy in Phyllis's own plans, much bigger and nastier than the ones Walter himself formulated. Complicating the matter is Phyllis's step-daughter, Lola, whose wholesomeness actually touches some soft spot in Walter's heart.

Perhaps Cain mellowed a little bit between POSTMAN and DOUBLE INDEMNITY. The main character actually feels some degree of guilt for the crime and actually shows concern for someone besides himself. Jeez, what a softie. Do not worry, though. There is enough human darkness here to satisfy even the hardest of readers' hearts.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 18, 2009
Format: Paperback
Although not published in book form until 1943, James M. Cain (1892 -1977) wrote "Double Indemnity" in 1936, just after his other short masterful noir novel "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1934) Both these novels became celebrated movies. I read the books together to try to get some understanding of Cain's art and of the noir genre.

As is Cain's earlier book, "Double Indemnity" is set in Los Angeles in the 1930s and is a tale of violence and murder heavily influenced by sex. Both books are told in the first person by a perpetrator of the crimes nearing the end of his life. The men in both books are seduced by a femme fatale who wishes to be rid of a husband.

There are differences in the books. The "Postman Always Rings Twice" involves people at the lower reaches of society, a wandering, penniless drifter together with a young frustrated woman married to an older man, "the Greek", who operates a run-down gas station and restaurant. The supporting characters also are drawn from low life. The book has a strong sense of place. The descriptions of the shabbier sections of Los Angeles and its environs are as important to the book as its story of lust and murder.

In contrast, "Double Indemnity" is far more psychological and probes deeper into the inner lives of its characters. The sense of place is less important that it is in "Postman". Furthermore, "Double Indemnity" involves crime and lust among the middle and upper classes rather than by those on the margins. The main character and narrator, Walter Huff, age 34, is a modestly successful insurance salesman. His victim, Nirdlinger, is a succesful oil and gas executive. The femme fatale is Nirdlinger's wife Phylis, in her early thirties.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By James Paris on September 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
In many ways, DOUBLE INDEMNITY is POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE redux -- the main exception being that POSTMAN's greasy spoon is replaced by a cozy upper middle class Spanish suburban house. In both books, a man is inspired by a sexy, discontented married woman into murdering hubby for gain.
POSTMAN's drifter is now a cocky insurance salesman (Walter Huff) who thinks he can both beat the odds and get the girl (Phyllis Nirdlinger), and -- why not? -- her daughter Lola as well. If you know anything about Greek tragedy, you can bet that the hubris mechanism is ready to spring into action with jaws agape.
James M Cain writes a tight novella that can easily be consumed in a single sitting. It's just that you feel you've been watching cockroaches mate from a great height. Few of Cain's novels show the least sign of sentiment, let alone liking, towards their characters. Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder's script for the film is actually far superior because the character of Keyes is developed into a moral center around which the story unrolls. (It also helps that Cain's INDEMNITY has a really gonzo ending.)
Nonetheless, Cain is what he is -- and his stories are always worth reading. But do see the Billy Wilder movie version!
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