My book review of Double Indemnity by James M Cain:

Double Indemnity by James M Cain is a novella. It is quite short especially if you ignore the padding in the foreword which serves no real purpose.

I vaguely recall watching the movie of the same name. It was strange reading this book as it times it seemed like I was watching an old black and white movie. Even some of the language was a little anachronistic.

It was both an easy and enjoyable read. The thing that intrigued me the most was the author not only adopting first person but telling the story through the perspective of the criminal. Walter Huff, the insurance salesman was a criminal who tried to commit the perfect crime once he had met the femme fatale in the shapely shape of Phyllis Nirdlinger. They hatch a plan to bump off her husband. It must be on a train because then the accident policy will pay out double – the double indemnity.

This book is said by many to be the “masterpiece” in hard-boiled crime fiction or “crime noir.” Indeed, it was recommended to me by a writer who gave me some constructive feedback on my own crime fiction writing. I do think the “many” who see it as a masterpiece are guilty of some hype. It’s good but not that good. It may be that time has changed all our perceptions of what is hard-boiled. By modern standards, this has a soft centre. I think it is more accurate to place it into a genre of “LA Noir.” I’m unsure that genres or categories help in reading books. They are useful to librarians in organizing books but a genre label can often be so misleading.

Walter Huff seems to have issues with women He speedily falls for the temptress Phyllis. The relationship quickly sours. Suddenly after a couple of encounters, he falls in love with Lola, Phyliss’s step-daughter. He’s a strange guy. I also found some of the author’s dialogue in the form of Huff’s words, hinting broadly at misogynistic tendencies.

Many of the readers/reviewers who hype it up fail to mention its weaknesses. The end of the story is entirely implausible and left me feeling flat. An “oh, that was crap” moment. I also found the modus operandi employed to enable the “switch” implausible. Clearly, I was not the only one. The film’s screenwriter(s) re-wrote those parts.

As the writer who recommended this book to me said, “After all. It’s all a matter of opinion.” She’s right of course. All reviews are one person’s opinion. An intriguing tale [this book], nevertheless.

It’s not deterred me from reading The Postman Always Rings Twice.


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