Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Review of The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain (Alfred Knopf, 1934)

Frank Chambers drifts through life, hustling here and there, always moving on from trouble. And he finds it with Cora Papadakis, a woman’s who dream of a good life in Hollywood has ended with her being married to a Greek garage and roadside cafe owner, Nick. Nick hires Frank as a mechanic and it doesn’t take long for Frank and Cora to start a torrid affair, and not much longer for them to start plotting the perfect murder of Nick. But committing murder is not as straightforward as it seems in theory …

The Postman Always Rings Twice is the second of the classic crime fiction curriculum challenge books I’ve read. While the story is quite short (89 pages in the edition I read), it packs a powerful punch. It’s a long time since I’ve read a novel, where my first action on finishing it is to go back to the beginning and start again. It really is that good and certainly one the best stories I’ve read since Hans Fallada’s, Alone in Berlin (my favourite read last year). And it has much in common with Fallada’s masterpiece, having a small cast of principal characters, a very well plotted, credible and clever story, and a noir sensibility that leaves the reader emotionally drained by the end. The writing is tight, thin on thick description, and proceeding through a series of nicely judged scenes that documents a fatal attraction and its consequences. And it’s clear as to why readers of this blog voted it an essential classic crime fiction read. A powerful book, that’s worth reading twice.

1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - Thanks for reminding me of this book. As you say, it's not a long novel, but it is a strong, strong story and quite compelling. I need to go dig that one out and re-read it : ).