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James M. Cain wrote three astonishingly fine works of fiction, and they're all here, along with a lesser work titled Serenade. The Postman Always Rings Twice has this opening line: "They threw me off the hay truck around noon." This summarizes so much about the narrator--almost a hobo, owning no watch, with no control over his own life, virtually trash that gets dumped at the volition of others. The writing here is hyper-economical in the manner of Hemingway, but entirely in the service of narrative. If you admire Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, you should absolutely give these novels a shot, though they are very different in that they involve not the detection of crime and the apprehension of killers, but the execution of crime under immense moral duress. Moreover, all three have a component of "women's romantic melodrama," in that they are above all twisted love stories. This is most famously true of Mildred Pierce, which is obsessively concerned with Mildred's rise to the middle class, the operations of her chicken restaurants, and her disastrous love for her daughter. Strange ingredients, and only a master could concoct from them the greatness Cain achieves. As for Double Indemnity, little needs to be said: This is a masterwork of American literature. The cover of this edition is a hoot, of course, bearing absolutely no relation to the contents, but I do own this one, and the print quality is fine, and readable front to back. Not exactly the Library of America treatment this great fiction writer merits (though Postman is included in the LoA's Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s), but until then a great and cheap way to get access to some very compelling reading, great just for mindless entertainment, and for deep thought.Read more ›
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James M. Cain is a great writer in the context of the last century. His writing was out of date by the 80's. Nobody talks the way his characters talk anymore. Only older people could relate to the scene settings. That does not mean that the plots are not good with their twists and turns. For those who enjoy recent history period pieces these novels might still bring plenty of reading pleasure.
Some great novelists including James Lee Burke have mentioned Cain as an influence. That means a lot and certainly outweighs any opinion I might offer. Nevertheless, I am going to stick to my guns and just give this book an "okay" rating.