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The Cocktail Waitress

James M Cain

At his best, there is no greater writer than James M Cain. When the Hound heard that there was a new novel from Cain, he immediately made space at the top of his ‘to read list’. Thankfully, The Cocktail Waitress did not disappoint.


After her husband’s death, Joan Medford takes a job serving drinks in a cocktail lounge. Young and beautiful, she proves a hit and the tips are good, especially from one rich old gentleman who gives her $50,000 and a proposal of marriage. But Joan finds him repulsive and has her eye on another man, a handsome young rogue. The pressure is on. The suspicious cops are on her case and her dead husband’s family have their own issues with her. And, as we only get Joan’s version of events, we have our own suspicions, too. We like the narrator but can we trust her?


The Cocktail Waitress was discovered among Cain’s papers after a decade-long search. Cain includes elements of own life in this novel whilst returning to familiar themes. As in The Postman Always Rings Twice there’s a love triangle with a young attractive woman, an older unattractive but successful man and a younger man of dubious morals. As in Mildred Pierce, the first-person lead is a strong female struggling to provide for her child and taking a waitressing job.


Cain tinkered with the manuscript up to his death, the ending still a work-in-progress. Charles Ardai used the several full manuscripts plus partial ones and various fragments to polish the version now published for the first time.


The writing is unmistakeably Cain. Taut, tough, real and raw. With its foreign excursions and many twists this is truly an exciting find from the daddy of noir.


"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

About James M Cain:

James Mallahan Cain was born in Annapolis, Maryland, USA.

Associated with the hardboiled school of American crime fiction and seen as one of the creators of the 'noir'.

After graduating from Washington College 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.

His first novel (he had already published 'Our Government' in 1930), 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' was published in 1934. Two years later the serialized, in 'Liberty Magazine', 'Double Indemnity was published.

He made use of his love of music and of the opera in particular in at least three of his novels: 'Serenade' (about an American opera singer who loses his voice and who, after spending part of his life south of the border, re-enters the States illegally with a Mexican prostitute in tow), 'Mildred Pierce' (in which, as part of the subplot, the only daughter of a successful businesswoman trains as an opera singer) and 'Career in C Major', a short semi-comic novel about the unhappy husband of an aspiring opera singer who unexpectedly discovered that he has a better voice than she does.

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


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