Double Indemnity by James M. Cain Double Indemnity by James M. Cain
Published by Vintage on January 5, 2011 (first published 1936)
Source: Purchased
Genres: Classic, Crime Fiction
Pages: 115
Format: eBook
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four-half-stars

James M. Cain, virtuoso of the roman noir, gives us a tautly narrated and excruciatingly suspenseful story in Double Indemnity, an X-ray view of guilt, of duplicity, and of the kind of obsessive, loveless love that devastates everything it touches.

Walter Huff was an insurance salesman with an unfailing instinct for clients who might be in trouble, and his instinct led him to Phyllis Nirdlinger. Phyllis wanted to buy an accident policy on her husband. Then she wanted her husband to have an accident. Walter wanted Phyllis. To get her, he would arrange the perfect murder and betray everything he had ever lived for.

Up until a few years ago, I was an insurance agent, but not like Walter Huff. Huff is good at his job, hard-working, and knows the insurance business inside-out. Then he meets a married woman who he falls for immediately. Her name is Phyllis and she has a thought, not even a plan, just a thought of what she would like to do about her husband. We don’t realize at the time, but Phyllis knows exactly what she’s doing, exactly what she’s suggesting, and really has no qualms and is perfectly capable of holding up under pressure. She is not a nice girl, no matter how she seems at first.

It doesn’t take Huff long to come up with full-blown plan. They’ll kill the husband and they’ll get away with the insurance money. He has been in the insurance game for a long time and he knows about every angle ever thought up by anyone to try and pull one over on an insurance company. He is uniquely qualified to formulate the perfect scam. Huff never really thinks about Phyllis’ motive, aside from the money. He wants the girl, but he also wants to get away with the scheme. He’s been training his whole life for this minute.

The writing is crisp and tight with pitch-perfect dialogue. It’s a novella, just over 100 pages, but Cain is a great writer. He gives us fully developed, complicated characters, from Huff and Phyllis to the insurance investigator. He fits the whole story in, right up to the just perfect ending, without wasting a sentence.

“I had killed a man, for money and a woman. I didn’t have the money and I didn’t have the woman.”

About James M. Cain

James Mallahan Cain (July 1, 1892–October 27, 1977) was an American journalist and novelist. Although Cain himself vehemently opposed labeling, he is usually associated with the hard-boiled school of American crime fiction and seen as one of the creators of the “roman noir.”

He was born into an Irish Catholic family in Annapolis, Maryland, the son of a prominent educator and an opera singer. After graduating from Washington College where his father, James W. Cain served as president, in 1910, he began working as a journalist for The Baltimore Sun.

He was drafted into the United States Army and spent the final year of World War I in France writing for an Army magazine. On his return to the United States, he continued working as a journalist, writing editorials for the New York World and articles for American Mercury. He also served briefly as the managing editor of The New Yorker, but later turned to screenplays and finally to fiction.

Although Cain spent many years in Hollywood working on screenplays, his name only appears on the credits of three films, Algiers, Stand Up and Fight, and Gypsy Wildcat.

His first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice was published in 1934. Two years later Double Indemnity was serialized in Liberty magazine.

He continued writing up to his death at the age of 85.

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