The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain

Our Rating
Author: James M. Cain

Category: Crime & mystery

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: KNOPF US

ISBN: 9780593311912

RRP: $26.99

First published in 1934, the same year as Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and Ngaio Marsh’s debut A May Lay Dead, James M Cain’s first novel is crime of a very different kind to the murder mysteries of the Queens of the Golden Age. 

Laced with violence and lust, The Postman Always Rings Twice caused a scandal, and was banned in Boston. But it’s also the foundation stone of American noir and hardboiled crime, has been adapted for operas, radio plays, stage plays and several films, and regularly features on best novels of all time lists. So, what was all the fuss about? 

Frank Chambers is a young drifter who gets thrown off a hay truck in the California desert, and meets amiable diner owner Nick Papadakis, and his sullen wife, Cora. At first Frank just wants to con a free meal, but quickly his gaze settles on Cora. This chance meeting leads to deadly consequences for all involved. At only a shade over 100 pages, Cain’s debut is a stick of dynamite; small but explosive. It hauls readers into Depression-era America, makes us witness to a bleak, sordid underbelly, and through his taut prose packs more into its slim form than many modern novels four or five times the size. 

A classic well worth (re)reading; grab the recent 2022 edition with a foreword by James Ellroy (LA Confidential) or the 2005 version with a foreword by the great James Lee Burke, to gain further insights into the influence of James M Cain on the crime genre. 

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson


James M Cain, author

James M Cain was born in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1892. Having served in the US Army in World War I, he became a journalist in Baltimore and New York in the 1920’s.

He later worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Cain died in 1977.

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