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The Cocktail Waitress
James M. Cain

Hard Case Crime (Winterfall LLC)
September 18, 2012 / ISBN 978-1781160329
Hardboiled Crime / Detective Fiction

Reviewed by Mark J. Brock-Farrington

"The Cocktail Waitress" was James M. Cain's final novel. It was written in 1975 just two years prior to his death. It was just recently published for the first time by Hard Case Crime - an excellent and fitting publisher of hardboiled fiction. "The Cocktail Waitress" will easily join the list of James M. Cain's earlier genre masterworks (such as The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce). The writing is pure Cain. Cain chooses his words like a gifted artist choosing the perfect hues and brush-strokes to paint the exact pictures and convey the exact emotions he wishes the reader to see and experience. His plotline moves like real-life unpredictable bursts, with unexpected twists and turns. The characters are real and fleshed-out and are limited only by the personal experience of the first person perspective from which they are experienced by the protagonist. Cain holds the reader to the end. The story demands contemplation after the final words are read... but this is not due to dissatisfaction with the ending. It is a contemplation of subtle possibilities and things unsaid. This makes the entire tale and its' characters remain with the reader long after the story ends.

The story is told by the young protagonist, Joan Medford. The story begins with the death of Joan's abusive, unemployed, alcoholic husband and then follows her through her desperate struggle to survive and care for her child with no family support, money or other needed resources. In fact she must also deal with hostile in-laws and suspicious law enforcement officials who seem determined to lay the blame for her husband's accidental death at her feet.

The story is hardboiled fiction and is classic noir. The violence is sparse but real but without any gratuitousness. The sex is also real and necessary to the plot; however, the sex is mostly insinuated rather than being openly graphic. The adult language is minimal with very sparse to non-existent profanity. Needless to say, this is adult fiction and deals with adult situations and themes.

This book is highly recommended for lovers of hardboiled fiction and for readers of classic noir. It is James M. Cain's final masterwork and is a must-read and must-have for any collector of classic crime fiction. This work rates an easy 5 of 5 stars.

Reviewed 2012