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A collection of stories, both early and late, that show how James M. Cain made his nameThere is a hungry tiger loose in the house, and that is not good news for anyone. A jealous husband let the animal out of his cage hoping he would eat his wife alive, but tigers aren't used to taking orders. This jungle cat will get his meal, and he doesn't care where it comes from."The Baby in the Icebox" begins with a murdered wildcat and ends with a dead human--and what comes in between is some of the most striking prose James M. Cain ever put to paper. It is one of the first stories this master of crime fiction ever wrote, and it shows all the hallmarks of the novels that would later make him famous--namely Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice. The tales in this collection are short, but Cain never needed more than a few pages to thrill.
From a famous tough-guy writer, a collection of shockingly funny storiesEver since she got married, Doris has regretted giving up her singing career. After years of domestic drudgery, she decides to take one last crack at becoming an opera singer, even if it means sacrificing everything for the sake of her dream. Her contractor husband is fully supportive, having no idea that the family's true musical genius isn't Doris--it's him.In this and other stories in Career in C Major, James M. Cain shows off a light comedic touch that will surprise readers who are familiar only with his crime novels The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity. But Cain had been publishing funny stories, articles, and satire since his early days as a reporter for H. L. Mencken's Baltimore Sun, and was just as comfortable writing about singers as he was about killers. This collection of Cain's lighter work shows that if an author is tough it doesn't mean he can't crack a smile.
One man sells his soul to save an innocent--who turns out not to be so innocent after allGraham meets Sonya outside of his real estate office. She is sixteen, beautiful, and showing just the right amount of leg. He's ruminating on those legs when she drops the bombshell--she's there because Graham's brother, Burl, raped her, leaving her frightened, pregnant, and very much alone. She was spending the night with a friend when two boys and a case of beer turned a quiet evening into a hellish orgy. All she wants is the $1,111 it will cost to spend the next few months in a convalescent home, then give the baby up for adoption, but Burl won't give her the money. Sonya's vengeful father, meanwhile, wants far more money from Burl, to pay for harming his daughter. Graham offers Sonya a better choice: He'll marry her so that she can get a legal abortion. This moment of twisted generosity will change his life forever--but he has no idea that, as he asks for Sonya's hand, he is signing away his soul.
Following her husband's death in a suspicious car accident, beautiful young widow Joan Medford is forced to take a job serving drinks in a cocktail lounge to make ends meet and to have a chance of regaining custody of her young son. At the job she encounters two men who take an interest in her, a handsome young schemer who makes her blood race and a wealthy but unwell older man who rewards her for her attentions with a $50,000 tip and an unconventional offer of marriage. . .
Tautly narrated and excruciatingly suspenseful, Double Indemnity gives us an X-ray view of guilt, of duplicity, and of the kind of obsessive, loveless love that devastates everything it touches. First published in 1935, this novel reaffirmed James M. Cain as a virtuoso of the roman noir.From the Trade Paperback edition.
While searching for her father, a runaway stumbles into a deadly mess At thirteen, Mandy was too old for spanking when her stepfather first took her over his knee. She's didn't mind the pain, but hated the look in his eye and his lingering hand. By the time she's fifteen, this young spitfire can't take any more of his unwanted groping. With seventy-four bucks in her pocket, she packs her things and buys the bus ticket that will change her life. She meets Rick at the bus stop--a handsome young thug who's a few days removed from his last bath. He's charming and sympathetic, so she buys him a ticket and, on the ride to Baltimore, tells him that she's going to find her real father. But wouldn't it be better, Rick suggests, to greet Daddy in style? Of course, a mink coat would cost a little money, but Rick knows just where to get it. His plan is daring, foolish, and highly dangerous. What teenage runaway could resist?
Out of jail and back at work, a boxing trainer finds a woman worth fighting forIt took some doing, but Duke Webster is out of prison. Val Valenty arranged the parole, and now the onetime boxing coach is his puppet, breaking his back on Valenty's farm in exchange for a pittance. But Valenty is about to find out that boxing men never take orders without a scrap. The trouble starts when Webster meets Valenty's wife. A barrel-shaped woman whose extreme weight makes her old before her time, Holly stays fat on Valenty's cooking--meat, potatoes, and endless gravy. Webster puts her on a diet, slimming her down the way he would an over-the-hill pro in search of a comeback. But as her waistline shrinks and her beauty emerges, Valenty gets jealous--putting them on course for a bloody confrontation where only the hungry will survive.
An academic looking for money finds a woman and trouble insteadProfessor Lloyd Palmer loves a good biography. His fantasy is to start an institute to teach young scholars the biographical arts, and it will take old money to make his dreams come true. Around Washington, the oldest money is found not in the District, but in Delaware, a land of wealth so astonishing that even the Du Ponts are considered nouveau riche. But when the professor goes to Wilmington, he comes away not with old money, but young trouble. Her name is Hortense Garrett. She is his benefactor's wife, a twenty-something beauty trapped in an unhappy marriage, whose good looks conceal the most cunning mind this side of the Potomac. She needs a ride to Washington, and Lloyd offers to give her a lift. They've barely left Delaware before he falls for her. By the time they hit the Beltway, his biography will be in her hands.
A salesman, a would-be divorcée, and an insurance policy turn toxic in RenoVegas is a city of lovers, but in Reno, the business is divorce. Six weeks in Reno can erase the darkest marriages, and the only question is how to pass the time--craps or roulette? Jane Delavan is a roulette woman, a stately beauty from back East who's too classy for the motel where she's shacked up. She's come for a divorce, but her husband has other ideas. He wants an annulment, and in exchange offers to take out a $100,000 insurance policy on himself--just in case something happens to him before their paperwork goes through. Jane is cunning enough to make sure that, if she wants something to happen, it will. Ed Horner is the insurance agent sent to settle the agreement, and it doesn't take long for Jane to settle him. They fall in love over twenty-five-cent roulette, and soon get a bigger score in mind. In the Biggest Little City in the World, a king-size scheme is brewing.
For the love of a beautiful waitress, a meat salesman will turn butcherClay Lockwood enters the Portico with corned beef on his mind. He's a top distributing executive with Grant's Meats, and the contract with the Portico restaurant chain is only the latest in a long line of boardroom coups. He comes for lunch, and eats his fill of his company's beef, but leaves with an entirely different hunger gnawing at his gut--a volcanic passion that will tear him apart. The hostess's name is Sally Alexis, a magician's wife whose rough-hewn charm mesmerizes this magnate of meat. She rebuffs his first pass, but calls him up later, to explain her situation and plead for tenderness. Although her marriage is miserable, she's won't leave her husband because she wants to secure an inheritance for her little boy. As the lovers get closer, Lockwood becomes an amateur illusionist himself, focusing on one very particular trick--how to make a magician disappear.
A Union army invalid meets a comely Louisiana rebel and never looks backThe Union has captured New Orleans, and Bill Cresap has come to reap the profits. A school friend has a line on some easy money, and Cresap is eager to turn carpetbagger. But when he lands in the Crescent City, still nursing a leg wound from Chancellorsville, he finds that his friend has vanished and taken their start-up capital with him. Just when despair threatens to overpower him, Mignon Fournet arrives to overwhelm him instead. A Creole widow with rebel sympathies and hopeful eyes, she has come to Cresap in desperate need. The army has arrested her father and she will do whatever it takes to find out where he's detained and what he's charged with. She begs Cresap to use his army connections to find him. Cresap soon discovers that Mignon's father shipped supplies to the Confederate commander; he could pay for treason with his life. Dazzled by the flirtatious Mignon, Cresap agrees to help free him. Although the veteran's army days are behind him, his war is just starting to heat up.
Mildred Pierce had gorgeous legs, a way with a skillet, and a bone-deep core of toughness. She used those attributes to survive a divorce and poverty and to claw her way out of the lower middle class. But Mildred also had two weaknesses: a yen for shiftless men, and an unreasoning devotion to a monstrous daughter. Out of these elements, Cain creates a novel of acute social observation and devastating emotional violence, with a heroine whose ambitions and sufferings are never less than recognizable.From the Trade Paperback edition.
A sweeping tale of love, loss, and the pursuit of beauty during the Great DepressionFrom birth, Jack Dillon is a golden child. Blessed with blond locks, glittering eyes, and a perfect voice, he is the most popular child singer in Baltimore. But when puberty robs him of his voice and the stock market wipes out his family fortune, Jack is forced to rebuild. Over the next fifteen years, Jack will see it all. From Maryland to California and back again, he will become a football star, a soldier, and a tramp. Through it all, he never loses his eye for beauty, or his hunger for a woman he has known since childhood. To find happiness in the face of the Depression, Jack will have to remember that no matter how the world has changed him, part of his soul remains as pure as the first note he sang.
A Confederate spy risks his life to win the heart of a fallen womanEarly in the Civil War, the Confederacy sends Roger Duval to Sacramento, to keep an eye on the situation in California in hopes of turning the Western territory towards the Southern cause. It's a plush assignment, well out of the line of fire, but Duval hasn't been there long before he comes into mortal danger. On a swim in the Sacramento River, he gets knocked on the head by a paddleboat, and is drowning in the muck when Morina, a quick-witted woman of the night, tosses him a rope. Suffocated by instant, irresistible love, Roger follows Morina to her home turf: Virginia City, Nevada. For the miners, gamblers, and gunfighters who populate this hardscrabble town, her price is negotiable. But for a man in love, she charges a thousand dollars. Roger will sacrifice body, mind, and soul to get that money--but will his sacrifice be enough to make her love him?
An amoral young tramp. A beautiful, sullen woman with an inconvenient husband. A problem that has only one, grisly solution -- a solution that only creates other problems that no one can ever solve. First published in 1934 and banned in Boston for its explosive mixture of violence and eroticism, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a classic of the roman noir. It established James M. Cain as a major novelist with an unsparing vision of America's bleak underside, and was acknowledged by Albert Camus as the model for The Stranger. Performed by Stanley Tucci
A hijacker and his hostage escape to a very strange, very dangerous farmSince his father died, every Saturday night has been the same for Dave and his mother. She starts by talking--aimless, weird fantasies about get-rich-quick schemes that never come to anything--but finally she goes silent, and that's when Dave becomes afraid. Mom has a way of getting very close that is repellent and appealing all at once, and he's terrified of where it might lead. One Saturday, a noise outside breaks the silence. A hijacker has escaped his stolen plane with a parachute, a hundred thousand dollars in cash, and one very frightened stewardess. The thief thinks he's gotten away with it, but he doesn't know what Dave's mother will do for an easy payday--and a chance to make her son a happy man.
While slinging hash in a diner, a would-be Cinderella meets her Prince CharmingCarrie Selden is not at all like the woman you've read about in the papers. Though she was raised in an orphanage, she isn't an orphan. She didn't finish high school until she was nineteen, but that was because she was working as a waitress, not because she was slow. And though she's very cunning, well, she's no femme fatale. But her beauty . . . oh yes, her beauty is everything you've heard. At twenty-one, she takes her savings and moves to New York City, landing a job at a diner called Karb's, at the bottom rung of the restaurant chain's tall corporate ladder. Though she makes minimum wage, Carrie is savvy, and it isn't long before she starts to climb. When her coworkers unionize, they choose her as president, and from there, the sky is the limit. But just as the union gets underway, she meets a mysterious intellectual named Grant--who will either help her rise to the top, or drag her straight down to hell.
A starlet comes to Reno to start a new life--and end her old one foreverSylvia Shoreham's Hollywood dreams came true long ago. Critically beloved for her beauty, talent, and style, she was on her way to international stardom when a bad contract committed her to seven years of trashy comedies and half-baked melodramas. Her marriage to her producer husband has become a rotten, loveless sham, so Sylvia's silver screen life verges on a nightmare. To escape her celluloid hell, she's got only one option: Forget Hollywood. It's time for a Reno vacation. She comes to Nevada hoping for a divorce from her husband, Vicki, and an end to her contract, but the ugly side of the business follows her. To protect herself from Vicki, she enlists Nevada's biggest Sylvia Shoreham fan. He's six feet tall, strong as a mule, and just happens to be Reno's sheriff. When her divorce turns into a war, this Hollywood icon will be glad to have him on her side.
All three books are written with an enduring view of the dark corners of the American psyche. Cain hammered high art out of the crude matter of betrayal, bloodshed, and perversity.From the Trade Paperback edition.
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