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The Cocktail Waitress (Hard Case Crime) Hardcover – September 18, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 105 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"This is vintage Cain ... Let's go get that book, baby. Let's read it. Let's get stinko." – The Washington Post

"entertaining and cleverly plotted" – Editors' Choice, New York Times

"Fittingly for the endpoint of a long and meaningful career, Cain saves his best twist for the very last page of his very last book, a haymaker from the blind side, so carefully finessed and camouflaged through the book as to bring a tear to a glass eye — another writer’s jealous acknowledgment. It is a moment that draws Joan’s world and Cain’s view of desire and consequence into tight focus. One thinks of the author well into his ninth decade, setting down those final passages with a hidden smile and a writer’s certain knowledge that they won’t see this coming. He was right." – New York Times

“I think James M. Cain is one novelist who has something to teach just about any writer, and delight just about any reader. The Postman Always Rings Twice was a work of genius. So it's good news that The Cocktail Waitress, Cain's last novel has finally been published.” – Anne Rice

“Swift and absorbing…pulses with more authentic primal energy than the work of any number of Cain imitators from the 1930s to the present.” – Wall Street Journal

"The Cocktail Waitress 
was found among his papers after a decade-long search and has never been published…until now. After burying her abusive husband on page 1 of the book, Joan takes a job waitressing to make ends meet, and winds up meeting two new men: a wealthy but repulsive older man and a handsome young schemer who makes her blood boil. Can you have any doubt that things will end badly for one or both of them? No, that’s not a spoiler – it’s a simple statement of fact when you’re talking about a Cain femme fatale, the deadliest species there is." – Huffington Post

"The Cocktail Waitress is a not-to-be missed crime thriller for all Cain fans ... A rare, hardboiled blast from the past." – Shelf Awareness

"It’s easy to fall for a previously unpublished work by Cain, whose oeuvre includes The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) and Double Indemnity(1943). Fortunately, The Cocktail Waitress—which the author sought to complete before perishing in 1977—serves up ample delights (and a few familiar themes). It tells of Joan Medford, a captivating young mother whose abusive hubby has died under odd circumstances, and who then takes a job waiting tables in a dodgy cocktail lounge. There she meets a loaded elderly gent with a bum ticker, Earl K. White III, as well as the grabby, calculating Tom Barclay. She weds White out of pragmatism, rather than passion; but tensions in the continuing relationships between these three players guarantee trouble. We witness the unfolding drama through Joan’s eyes, while wondering what she’s withholding." – Kirkus

"the most important literary event of 2012 ... This book marks the greatest achievement of Hard Case Crime in its short existence ... ranks right up there with anything the author ever wrote in his prime. And in saying that, it is better than a lot of what gets published today ... Cain creates a timeless, claustrophobic nightmare that will rock you long after you put it down ... a noir masterpiece ... THE COCKTAIL WAITRESS is the book of 2012. And Hollywood should take note: this is going to be a great film noir movie someday." – Book Reporter

“This novel will capture you quickly.” “It’s spicy and riveting.” “This is the kind of book that makes people want to read Hard Case Crime. It’s perfect as an introduction to crime novels or as a refreshing new offering from an old favorite.” “You’re definitely going to want to pick up a copy.” – DNM Magazine

About the Author

A one-time editor at The New Yorker and a lifelong journalist, James Mallahan Cain achieved worldwide overnight fame when he published his first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, in 1934.  The classics Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce followed in 1936 and 1941, reinforcing Cain's reputation as the great chronicler of crimes of passion, typically set against a working-class backdrop during the Great Depression. His books have inspired a number of classic movies, including Billy Wilder's Academy Award-nominated adaptation of Double Indemnity, which was chosen by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 greatest movies of all time.

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Product Details

  • Series: Hard Case Crime
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Hard Case Crime; First Edition edition (September 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781160325
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781160329
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #520,839 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
James M. Cain (1892 -- 1977) is best-known for his early novels including "The Postman Always Rings Twice", "Double Indemnity" and "Mildred Pierce" and for the many movies based on his writing. After these successes, written while working as a Hollywood screenwriter, Cain had mixed success and for a time was largely forgotten. He returned to his home in Hyattsville, Maryland (a suburb of Washington, D.C.) in 1948 and continued to write. Written just before his death, Cain's final novel, "The Cocktail Waitress" existed only in various partially editied manuscripts. Edited meticulously by Charles Ardai,the novel is being published in 2012 for the first time.

Cain's novel is largely set in Hyattsville and other Washington D.C. suburbia during the 1950s. The use of the drug Thalidomide during this time, which resulted in many severe birth defects, forms an important backdrop to the book. The book's primary character, a highly sexual femme fatale in her early 20's, Joan White, narrates the story. The daughter of a prosperous Pittsburgh family, Joan ran off to Washington D.C. when she rejected a suitor urged by her parents. She becomes pregnant by and marries an abusive young man, Ron who dies under the influence in a single-car accident under suspicious circumstances. Her sister-in-law takes custody of the couple's young child. In order to make ends meet, Joan takes a position as a cocktail waitress in a bar called Garden of Roses, where the services of the waitresses sometimes are for sale.

Joan tells the history of her relationship with two men. One of the patrons of the Garden of Roses is Earl White, a wealthy and elderly widower with a severe heart condition.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The interesting and informative afterword to this Hard Case Crime installment was written by publisher and editor Charles Ardai. In it we learn that James M. Cain (1892-1977) composed many different drafts of The Cocktail Waitress during the last two years of his life. But when is it that the events described in its pages are supposed to have taken place? In chapter 12, reference is made to the Howdy Doody Show as still being on the air. That would mean the narrative is set in 1960 or earlier. Elsewhere in the book, the New York airport is referred to as Kennedy on more than one occasion. Well, in 1960, Kennedy Airport was still known as Idlewild. It was renamed Kennedy three years later. So it seems that The Cocktail Waitress is set in a year no later than 1960 but at the same time after 1963. I know, I'm nitpicking. Still...

Anyway getting back to the review. The subject matter is salacious; we'd expect no less from James M. Cain. At times it even borders on the pornographic. But the gritty realism contained in the classic novels he authored four decades earlier just isn't there. In its place is a soap opera type feel where bad things just keep happening in defiance of all logic. Moreover, much of the dialogue comes off as stilted, not the way people really talk to each other.

As a long lost James M. Cain manuscript, The Cocktail Waitress is worth reading for its historical value. But as a work of literature, it falls a bit short.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Charles Ardai, a devotee of "hard case" novels made his fortune in non-literary ventures. As a fan of "Black Mask" style hard-boiled fiction (such as appeared in the late and very much lamented, "Creative Arts/Black Lizard" series), Ardai had the resources (and inspiration) to pick up where Don Ellis left off. His "Hard Case Crime" imprint has re-issued several classics and published new works in the hard-boiled/noir category. Ardai found manuscript versions of famed author James M. Cain's unpublished final novel "The Cocktail Waitress". Claiming a major literary coup, Ardai edited and published "Waitress" clearly considering it more than a mere literary curiosity; rather unsurprisingly, he touts it as a worthy successor to Cain's three (early career) great novels. By the end of the WW-II era, Cain's career had pretty much tanked. Based on Cain's trajectory and the fact that "Waitress" was written at the end of the author's life, the prospects for a masterpiece were slim indeed.

The young, well-endowed protagonist of "Waitress" has fallen from grace by dint of a mid-adolescent romantic crisis leading to complete estrangement from her "Social Registry" parents. An early marriage to an abusive, alcoholic and rapid progression to widowhood, followed by destitution and resurrection (as a scantily-clad cocktail waitress in a bar-eatery) sets the scene. At the "Garden" she meets a preposterously wealthy, cadaverous, elderly and physically debilitated gentleman who (naturally) falls for her, despite the obvious problems presented by an infatuation of this sort including impotence which he ascribes to coronary atherosclerosis.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"You're a goddam good-looking gold-digger, and I go for you, plenty." They don't write 'em like that any more. Possibly with good reason. But it sure is fun to have a brand new good old pulp crime novel from the wonderful James M. Cain. Compared to Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and my favorite, Mildred Pierce (Movie Tie-in Edition) (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard), THE COCKTAIL WAITRESS, really doesn't merit 5 stars, but I have to give it the highest rating for the pleasure it brings to Cain fans to have this lost novel in print.

If you've read Cain's other classic novels or seen the great film noir versions from the mid-1940s, many of those novels' themes will be familiar... the overly-devoted mother who waitresses in order to provide for her child, the young wife married to an older man for his money, and the dangerously handsome young lover. It is so much fun to read another Cain novel that seems to come from his earlier period (although he was working on it when he died in 1977) that you hate to put it down and hate even more to come to the end.

If you are not familiar with Cain or the traditions and style of the pulp crime novels and early film noir, you may be puzzled by the many positive reviews of this one. If you didn't live through the 60s, you may not appreciate the powerfully ironic and disturbing twist of the last page, and I strongly encourage you to read the afterword by editor Charles Ardai (at least the few paragraphs).
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