A good, swift, violent story
‘Nobody has ever pulled it off the way Cain does, not Hemingway, and not even Raymond Chandler’
James M. Cain was sitting on a park bench by the White House in 1914 when a voice inside him said, ‘You’re going to be a writer.’ It was 20 years before his prediction came true, but his varied career as a singer, crime reporter and insurance man proved vital to his notorious first novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. Based on a real-life murder, it was an instant bestseller that inspired both fascination and outrage, and was banned in Boston for its plain-speaking portrayal of adultery and homicide. Today it is seen as one of the most important crime novels of the 20th century – translated into 18 languages and listed in the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels. Described by the New York Times as a ‘six-minute egg’, it epitomises the hardboiled roman noir.
‘A good, swift, violent story’
Unlike Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler before him, Cain focuses not on detectives but on ordinary people who become perpetrators – the lonely and lascivious, the greedy and the bored. Indeed, he famously claimed not to write whodunnits but love stories. Here an amoral young drifter tells a brief, brutal tale. Arriving at a roadside diner, Frank Chambers catches a glimpse of sullen, provocative Cora and instantly accepts a job with her guileless husband Nick. Before long, the two are embroiled in a savagely passionate affair. But Nick is a problem that needs fixing, and for the lovers, lust and violence are easy bedfellows … With its sense of impending doom, and the moral ambiguity and fatalism that envelop Frank and Cora, it’s no surprise that Albert Camus cited The Postman Always Rings Twice as the model for The Outsider. MGM swooped on the novel, recognising the screen potential of its lean prose, quickfire dialogue and short sharp plot. The result was a 1946 film starring Lana Turner, the first of six adaptations. In this edition, Patrick Leger’s dramatic illustrations and a preface by novelist and film critic Steve Erickson are perfect accompaniments to Cain’s cinematic prose.
'A poet of the tabloid murder’