‘Don’t be distracted by its status as a lost classic – just enjoy it for what it is: a terrific James M Cain novel’ – The Cocktail Waitress by James M Cain

A legendary lost last novel by the equally legendary James M Cain – he of Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce fame. The scantest knowledge of Cain (between the 30s and the 60s, he was known in many quarters as ‘a dabbler in sin and scandal, a purveyor of the lurid and the low’ – even Raymond Chandler, who adapted Double Indemnity for Billy Wilder, wasn’t a fan) will more than prepare you for the joys of The Cocktail Waitress, a novel whose deceptive title doesn’t bestow its greatest gift until the final chapter.

Joan Medford has just buried her mean abusive husband who drove himself off the road after a furious barney with his missus – and already the vultures, in the shape of her husband’s catty sister and a rather intent young police officer called Church, are circling. The bills are piling up, though, and Joan – very much a sister of Mildred Pierce, takes the advice of Church’s friendly partner and takes a job at a nearby drinking establishment. It is here, done up to flaunt her enviable assets, she first meets Earl K White, a potential sugar daddy, and Tom Barclay, a good looking young fella with idiotic dreams of radiating a nearby lake in order to improve tourism. Caught between the rock of potentially assured easy living via Earl and the hard place of frolics with Tom, Joan dances a merry dance that eventually sees her heading her for the electric chair…

Fans of Cain will find much to thrill and amuse here. There is even pleasure to be had – and great pleasure in that – in catching the echoes and reflections of earlier works: readers of both Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice will recognise the age old love triangle at work here. There’s also a smattering of autobiography in the character of Earl K White – like Earl, Cain was suffering from angina at this point, regularly choking back the nitroglycerine tablets to keep death at bay. But by the end of chapter one, you’ll have forgotten mostly everything but the tale. Crime aficionados only need to know that here is a book you’ll keep turning the pages of at speed. And if this is your first James M Cain – all the better…

Any Cop?: Don’t be distracted by its status as a lost classic – just enjoy it for what it is: a terrific James M Cain novel…


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