My mini-noir season continues, unexpectedly, after I left my current book at home. Picking up James M.Cain’s hardboiled masterpiece was a stroke of luck. I’d never read Cain before, and like James Lee Burke says in his in introduction to the Orion edition, I was stunned at how bloody good he was. Cain denied that he was influenced by Hemingway, though his lean, muscular prose shares all that’s great about Papa at his best. But there’s something else – maybe all the sex, maybe the tragic-comic touches, maybe the sunbeaten atmosphere of a lost Californian truckstop – that made it such an indelible read.
It’s a simple story, often told. The drifter, the wife, and the cheerfully ignorant husband. They don’t wait around to get to the cuckolding, going at it hammer and tongs by page 9. What follows reminded me of the genius z-list classic Detour, another existentialist horror about a battle of wills and desire.