Review: Double Indemnity by James M. Cain


Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

My contribution to Rich’s year in crime fiction meme (this month is 1936) over at Past Offences and don’t forget to visit the wrap up page at Past Offences by the end of April.

Orion, 2005. Format: Paperback. Published serially in 1936. ISBN: 978-0-7528-6427-3. Page count 144.

https://www.orionbooks.co.uk/assets/OrionPublishingGroup/img/book/273/isbn9780752864273-detail.jpgI finished reading Double Indemnity when I still had fresh in my memory the film based on this novel, directed by Billy Wilder in 1944 with screenplay written by Wilder himself together with Raymond Chandler; starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, and Edward G. Robinson. See my post here. Except for the ending, the film reflects faithfully the storyline of the novel. The plot can be summarised briefly as follows: Walter Huff, an experienced insurance agent, visits one day the house of a wealthy businessman called Nirdlinger in order to renew his car insurance policy. Mr Nidlinger is not at home but Walter is received by his young and attractive wife, Phyllis Nirdlinger. During the course of their conversation Phyllis becomes interested in a life insurance for her husband and, although Walter suspects the worst, he ends up seduced by the charms of Phyllis. Together they plan the murder of her husband after ensuring that he has signed, without knowing it, a life insurance policy with a double indemnity clause in the event of a railway accident.

Double Indemnity first appeared in serial form in 1936 for Liberty magazine and was finally published in book form in 1943, just one year before being brought to the big screen. James M. Cain based his novella on a 1927 murder perpetrated by a married Queens, New York, woman and her lover, whose trial he attended while working as a journalist in New York. In that crime, Ruth Snyder persuaded her boyfriend, Judd Gray, to kill her husband Albert after having him take out a big insurance policy with a double indemnity clause. The murderers were quickly identified, arrested and convicted. The front page photo of Snyder’s execution in the electric chair at Sing Sing has been called the most famous news photo of the 1920s (information taken from Wikipedia). Double Indemnity was James M Cain’s second novel, following his highly acclaimed novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1934.

I must acknowledge that Double Indemnity is the first book by James M. Cain that I’ve read, and I still wonder why it took me that long in having read one of his novels. In my view, this is a masterpiece. And, although I was familiar with the storyline having seen the film several times, I’ve felt captivated by his narrative style and for the way Cain is able to develop tension and suspense into the plot. I cannot fail to mention the significance of Cain’s novels in the birth and subsequent evolution of what we know today as ‘noir fiction’ or ‘roman noir’, understood as an independent genre to hardboiled fiction (see my post A first approach to the difference between hardboiled, noir fiction and crime fiction in Spanish). A must read for everyone, and not only for lovers of the genre.

My rating: A+ (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)

James Mallahan Cain (1892 – 1977) was a first-rate writer of American hard-boiled crime fiction. Born in Baltimore, the son of the president of Washington College, Cain began his career as a reporter, serving in the American Expeditionary Force in World War I and writing for The Cross of Lorraine, the newspaper of the 79th Division. He returned from the war to embark on a literay career that included a professorship at St. John’s College in Annapolis and a stint at The New Yorker as managing editor before he went to Hollywood as a script writer. Cain’s famous first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, was published in 1934 when he was forty-two, and became an instant sensation. It was tried for obscenity in Boston and was said by Albert Camus to have inspired his own book, The Stranger. The infamous novel was staged in 1936, and filmed in 1946 and 1981. The story of a young hobo who has an affair with a married woman and plots with her to murder her husband and collect his insurance, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a benchmark of classic crime fiction and film noir. Two of Cain’s other novels, Mildred Pierce (1941) and Double Indemnity (1943), were also made into film noir classics. In 1974, James M. Cain was awarded the Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America. Cain published eighteen books in all and was working on his autobiography at the time of his death (Black Lizard).

Double Indemnity has been reviewed at The Complete Review, JacquiWine’s Journal, Scott D Parker and Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog among others.

Orion books

Black Lizard

Pacto de sangre de James M. Cain

https://i0.wp.com/www.serienegra.es/medio/2012/07/23/9788490062593_300x442.jpg

Terminé de leer Pacto de sangre cuando aún tenía fresca en mi memoria la película basada en esta novela, Perdición, dirigida por Billy Wilder en 1944 con guión escrito por el propio Wilder junto con Raymond Chandler; protagonizada por Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray y Edward G. Robinson. Ver mi entrada aquí. A excepción del final, la película refleja fielmente el argumento de la novela. La trama se puede resumir brevemente como sigue: Walter Huff, un experimentado agente de seguros, visita un día la casa de un rico empresario llamado Nirdlinger con el fin de renovar el seguro de su coche. El Sr. Nidlinger no se encuentra en casa, pero Walter es recibido por su joven y atractiva mujer, Phyllis Nirdlinger. Durante el curso de su conversación Phyllis se interesa por un seguro de vida para su marido y, aunque Walter sospecha lo peor, termina seducido por los encantos de Phyllis. Juntos planean el asesinato de su marido después de asegurarse de que ha firmado, sin saberlo, un seguro de vida con una cláusula de doble indemnización en caso de sufrir un accidente ferroviario.

Pacto de sangre apareció por primera vez en forma de entregas en la revista Liberty en 1936 y fue finalmente publicada en formato de libro en 1943, justo un año antes de ser llevada a la gran pantalla. James M. Cain basó su novela en un asesinato perpetrado en 1927 por una mujer casada de Queens, Nueva York, y por su amante, a cuyo juicio asistió mientras trabajaba como periodista en Nueva York. En ese delito, Ruth Snyder convenció a su amante, Judd Gray, para que matara a su marido Albert después de contratar una importante póliza de vida, que incluía una cláusula de doble indemnización. Los asesinos fueron rápidamente identificados, arrestados y condenados. La foto en primera página de la ejecución de Snyder en la silla eléctrica en Sing Sing ha sido considerada la foto periodística más famosa de la década de los 20 (información tomada de Wikipedia). Pacto de sangre es la segunda novela de James M Cain, después de su famosa novela El cartero siempre llama dos veces, 1934.

Debo reconocer que Pacto de sangre es el primer libro de James M. Cain que he leído, y todavía me pregunto por qué he tardado tanto tiempo en haber leído una de sus novelas. En mi opinión, esta es una obra maestra. Y, a pesar de que estaba familiarizado con la historia después de haber visto la película varias veces, me he sentido cautivado por su estilo narrativo y por la forma como Cain es capaz de desarrollar la tensión y el suspense en la trama. No puedo dejar de mencionar la importancia de las novelas de Cain en el nacimiento y la posterior evolución de lo que hoy conocemos como ‘género noir’ o novela negra, entendido como un género independiente a la ficción hardboiled (ver mi entrada  A first approach to the difference between hardboiled, noir fiction and crime fiction in Spanish). Una lectura obligatoria para todo el mundo, y no sólo para los amantes del género.

Mi valoración: A+ (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro)

James M. Cain (Annapolis, Maryland, 1892 – University Park, Maryland, 1977) Es uno de los autores más emblemáticos del género negro estadounidense. Novelista y periodista, comenzó a escribir para el ejército norteamericano durante los últimos días de la Primera Guerra Mundial, en la que participó como voluntario en 1918. Finalizada la guerra, Cain se ganó la vida como periodista en varios rotativos de Nueva York, aunque al poco tiempo pasó a escribir guiones cinematográficos y, seguidamente, relatos breves y novelas. Autor de numerosos éxitos editoriales, su obra cumbre sigue siendo El cartero siempre llama dos veces (SN, 63), llevada al cine en varias ocasiones (RBA).

RBA

RBA Serie Negra

22 thoughts on “Review: Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

  1. Keishon

    My first introduction to James M. Cain was *this* book. Glad you enjoyed it, too, Jose. I enjoyed it and went on to read two more of his works. I loved Mildred Pierce which is I think his best book out of the three known popular works. He was a prolific writer but only three of his books are well known.

    1. Thank you Keishon. I’ve just requested The Postman Always Rings Twice and have on my TBR shelve The Cocktail Waitress but I’m interested in reading Mildred Pierce as well.

  2. Great writeup, Jose. Myself, I felt that, although the movie stuck reasonably closely to the original (aside from the framing device), it made the story far more claustrophobic than the novel. I’ve never been able to decide whether this was or was not a good thing!

    1. Thank you John. I’m not able to choose between the book or the film, with their similarities and their differences. You’re right to point out that the movie is far more claustrophobic, And it seems to me that’s a good thing, but I also loved the book. It reflects very well the nihilism of the era in which it was written

  3. I enjoyed your review, Jose. It’s a great noir, superbly written. Thank you for the kind mention and link. I think I’m going to try Mildred Pierce as my next by Cain (The Postman Always Rings twice was excellent).

  4. Gracias Jose Ignacio. Hay tantos libros por leer que ya empiezo a tener que escoger. Así que si tu dices que es una obra maestra a la lista de pendientes va. Ya te contaré!

  5. Really enjoyed your review Jose ignacio – in many ways I prefer the 1944 film version co-written by Raymond Chandler, but it’s a very memorable book – must re-read it – thanks!

    1. Thank you Sergio. Can understand that you prefer the 1944 film, but I believe also that the book, as you say, is ‘memorable’ and I’ve not been able to take a position in that sense.

  6. I do want to read this book. I always considered this author outside of my comfort zone, but I am willing to stretch a little. And watch the movie. I may have watched it years ago, but it would be all new to me now. Great review.

  7. Pingback: Review: The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain | The Game's Afoot

  8. This is my book for this month too (having just finished last month’s!) I’ve taken a bit too much on, tbh, but I’ll get there, albeit late. I’ve got a “Best Of James M Cain” collection, so I’m not sure how quickly I’ll whizz through this, but I’ll do my best (it’s the reviews which take me ages!) It certainly sounds good, from your excellent review – so I’m looking forward to it!

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