May 30, 2012

Book: Double Indemnity by James M Cain

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:11 am

This is the third of the trio of the most famous novels of this author.  We have already reviewed two other books of his:  The  Postman Always Rings Twice,  and Mildred Pierce.

This book has the look and feel of the Postman Always Rings Twice in that this also reads like a Dick Tracy novel come to life. However, this one is a bit more shallow than even that book and the story, though interesting, is uncomplicated and simple.

The story is about an insurance salesman called Walter Huff who discovers that an attractive blond called Phyllis Nordinger, who is a young vivacious woman married to an old rich and cantankerous Mr Nordinger, plans to clumsily kill her husband, after insuring his life for a big sum unknown to him.

Walter, who has faller hard for Phyllis, refines the plan to be almost undetectable and helps Phyllis in her effort to kill the husband, while creating for himself a cast iron alibi.

When he finds out that Phyllis is not an innocent little victim who had had too much abuse in her hubby’s hands, and when Walter also finds and falls in love with the stepsister of Phyllis, called Lola, things get complex. Walter finds that Nora is in love with Sachetti but he appears to be in cohorts with the mother Phyllis.

What is more simpler to commit one more murder, this time of Phyllis and frame Sachetti? Both obstacles to Walter’s love will be eliminated in one brilliant swoop and the way would be open for Walter to reunite with his love, Lola.

That’s when things go wrong…. Very wrong.

The book is an easy read and is told in Cain’s breezy style. The problem is that it is too much like the Postman book of Cain, and at the end, it does not stay in the mind.

For its entertainment value alone, you can give it a 4/10

— Krishna


May 9, 2012

Book: Mildred Pierce by James M Cain

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:20 am

This is the second book to be reviewed by this author. His most famous  book The Postman Always Rings
Twice  was reviewed in this blog earlier.

This was also one of the novels made into a movie which became a blockbuster in 1945 and  starred Joan Crawford.

The contrast with the other book is interesting. While the other book feels like reading a Dick Tracy novel in words, this one attempts to add a little more gravitas to the situation, attempting to follow the life of Mildred Pierce, who is a housewife dependent on her husband Bert. But this being Iain M. Banks, do not expect too much seriousness. The style is recognizably his, with easygoing conversations and simple descriptions, but the tone of the book is recognizably different.

The book opens with Mildred catching her husband cheating, and he walks out on her after an argument. Mildred’s elder child, Veda, bears a huge grudge on Mildred for causing the `loss‘ of her father in her life, but Mildred has bigger worries – like how to make a living. She thinks of expanding her small hobby-like business of growing pies, but lacks the money for capital.

She decides to take up a job as a waitress, hiding the fact from the snobbish Veda who scorns her every move while happily living off her income. She also has a series of affairs with men, one with a Polo playing celebrity called Marty Bergon, without realizing that he is a celebrity.

She takes all initiatives that come her way, starting a restaurant and growing it to a chain of restaurants, but loses her younger child Ray to illness, made doubly bitter as she was away having an affair at that time – she arrives only just in time to watch her die.

Veda tries out her dream of being a piano player only to be rudely rejected as hopeless by her teacher.

Fortunes change – Veda grows more and more bitter, obdurate and obstructive that Mildred has no choice but to throw her out. She is amazed to find that Veda is a famous singer, and is a celebrity in her own right. She yearns to be reunited with her, and watches Marty go down in flames, consumed by crushing debt.

The book ends rather abruptly. The story is easygoing, and is told in a lightweight style. Even the twists, surprises and turns do not amaze you.

The book is fairly interesting, but since neither the narration nor the storyline is weighty, and since this has the feel of a two penny novel of old times, I can award it no more than a 4/10


April 27, 2012

Book: The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:09 pm

The story is interesting enough, in its own way. But the style does not satisfy. More on this, later in this review.

The story is that of Frank Chambers, who is a vagabond and “a bum” to use the words of some of the other characters in the novel itself. He finds himself footloose in the gas station of Nick Papadakis. What holds him back there  is the beauty of Nick’s wife, Cora Papadakis nee Smith. Cora is dissatisfied with her `greasy Greek’ husband, and falls for Frank.

They first plan to kill Nick and make it look like an accident. Inept planning botches the scheme, which is abandoned. Then they plan to elope but back out of that scheme too. Cora is resigned to live with the Greek and Frank departs for other pursuits.

But he cannot forget Cora and comes back, and they plan to complete what they started by killing Nick, and succeed this time. The inept handling again almost lands them both in jail and they escape by a hair’s breadth. The prosecutor Sacket was a demon but was defeated by the greater wiles of their attorney, Katz.

Well, Nick and Cora now differ on how to lead their life together, and the idyllic relationship starts to turn sour, with mutual suspicions and recriminations. Add in other affairs, and a blackmail, and the story really gets convoluted. In the end, there is an ironic twist, that is supposed to make you sit bolt upright and go `Aha!’

However, the 1934 pulp style jars and takes away much of the enjoyment from reading a book. The book is filled with cliché and inane conversations and the whole thing reads like some Dick Tracy comic strip in style and depth of analysis. How is this for a sample?

Frank desires Cora and she says no. So he hits her hard, so that she bleeds. Then instantly she falls for him. He betrays her every chance he gets because Sackett hookwinked him into it. He indulges in extramarital affairs the moment Cora’s back is turned. If this was intended to portray weakness of the human mind, it just ends up irritating the reader because you lose your sympathy with almost all characters instantly and you do not find anyone else whom you could even vaguely respect or empathize with.

It is interesting that the book was considered so risqué in 1934, when it was written, that it was altogether banned in Canada.

It is also interesting that the author, James M. Cain, tried his hand in writing movie scripts, failed, and then started as an author for books. He found that almost all of his major books were turned into blockbuster movies subsequently!

Incidentally, in the movie version, they seem to have taken her maiden surname (Smith) and given it to her husband, thereby making him Nick Smith and presumably “not a greasy Greek”.

You may argue that it is unfair to judge a 1934 book now  as dull, because times and style have changed a lot. Yes, but truly great books will still be interesting after all these years (See the review of Great Expectations earlier for an example.)

This one is not a truly great book and I can award it only a 4/10.

— Krishna

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