December 5, 2022
I’ve had a few James M. Cain Cocktail Talks here, which makes pretty swell sense, as he is a noir master, and I like those kinds of books lots, lots I tell you. It’s mad to think that perhaps the most classic of the Cain classics (though opinions may vary, with good reason), The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, came out within a year of each other, or very close. What a whammo one two punch in the brain that was! The other day I had an urge to pick up a book that I could read probably in a single day, at the most two, and I reached for the latter of that deadly duo, Double Indemnity. It’d been a bit since I’d re-read a Cain, and also, it’s just not a very long book, my copy clocks in at 125 pages, and it moves scenically, emotionally, crazily, so quickly through its tale of murder, insurance fraud, and madness (in a way). Such good pacing, and such a master class in economical writing, if there are people who haven’t read it, well, they should! Calculating (to say it mildly) narrator, femme fatale, sideways sort-of hero (or crime solver), multiple crimes, maybe the noir-est ending out there, what a book! And what a quote below about not being able to get stinko!
I didn’t dare call her up, because for all I knew even now her wires might be tapped. I did that night what I had done the other two nights, while I was waiting on the inquest, I got stinko, or tried to. I knocked off a quart of Cognac, but it didn’t have any effect. My legs felt funny, and my ears rang, but my eyes kept staring at the dark, and my mind kept pounding on it, what I was going to do. I didn’t know. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t even get drunk.
–James M. Cain, Double Indemnity
April 14, 2015
The lost James M. Cain novel – which was found, thankfully – is good enough that I couldn’t have just one Cocktail Talk from it (if you missed The Cocktail Waitress Part I, catch up). So, here’s another quote from the book to wet your whistle (and to get you to read the book, if you haven’t already. But you probably have. Cause you’re cool like that).
“Sergeant Young, can I thank you again, for suggesting I come here, for recommending me to Bianca, or vice versa, whichever is the right way to say it? I handed over the wine and cocktail list, though obviously he knew the Garden better than I did and probably already knew what he liked to have.
“I’m glad she had an opening for you, and that you took it.” He handed back the card. “You can ask Jake to make me up a smash.”
Jake mixed a whiskey sour and poured it into a highball glass with some muddled mint leaves at the bottom. Sergeant Young took a long sip and set it down, then looked me over from head to toe. This time I didn’t stiffen. A week can make a difference
— James M. Cain, The Cocktail Waitress
April 7, 2015
A lost novel by James M. Cain (James M. Cain!) came out a couple years ago, and I didn’t even realize it. Cause I am an idiot! But, that didn’t make me any less happy when I did find out, and when I found a copy I was ridiculously happy. Mr. Cain is of course one of the honest-and-true pulp and hardboiled masters, and so discovering The Cocktail Waitress, a lost novel of his, well, that’s treasure to a guy like me. And the book is fantastic, with many of the Cain hallmarks (sex, greed, stark, and characters that breathe), and with a fair amount of action in a bar called The Garden of Roses. In it, our main character learns a bit about what she’ll need to do besides delivering drinks.
“First set-up is for the old-fashioned. You know what an old- fashioned is?”
“You mean the orange slices and cherries?”
“…Yeah, them.” He gave me a long look, then went on: “And for Martinis?”
“I turn the olives out in a bowl and stick toothpicks in them.”
“Onions, no toothpicks.”
“O.K. Now, on Manhattans—”
“No toothpicks if they have stems on them. But sometimes the wrong kind is delivered, and them without stems take picks. On Margaritas—”
“Salt? In a dish? And a lemon, gashed on one end, to spin the glasses in?”
“Speaking of lemon—”
“Twists? How many?”
“Many as three lemons make. Cut them thick, put them in a bowl, and on top put plenty ice cubes, so they don’t go soft on me. I hate soft twists.” He looked at me like I was a dancing horse or some other marvel. “You sure you never…?”
I explained: “My mother used to give parties, and my father fixed the drinks. I was Papa’s little helper.”
— James M. Cain, The Cocktail Waitress
July 7, 2009
Maybe you’re feeling a little dark, or loveless, or like you might want to get involved in a little small-time grift that might end up in a pool of bullets or blood or bourbon (ah, the three B’s). You could blame the holiday weekend and go on with your head down and your eyes tearful. You could go out and get involved with a dangerous person in a typhoon romance consisting of violence and betrayal. Or, you could just go read a little James M. Cain and live vicariously. To help you head down the last path (I am ready to help, my noirish pals), here are two quotes from his book Love’s Lovely Counterfeit. It’s probably not the best Cain, but still better probably than what you’re currently reading (well, I gotsta be honest), and it does have a little Midwestern politico and gangster flair I’m fond of, mighty fond I could say. If you need more than a read to flip-flop your mood, well, scroll down for some drinking ideas.
Ben, however, seemed neither surprised nor unduly upset. He righted the glasses, flipped a cherry in each, and poured the Manhattans. Setting one beside her, he said, “Here’s how,” and took a sip of his own, put it down. Then he took an envelope from the inner pocket of his coat and handed it to her. “Your share.”
“… Of what?”
“Of what we’re doing.”
He squashed his cigarette, looked at the palms of his hands. They had pips of moisture on them. He had the dizzy, half-nauseated feeling of a man who has been rocked to the depths by a woman, and knows it. He got up, crossed in front of her, went into the alcove for a drink. When he had downed a hooker of rye he looked and she was still there.
–James M. Cain, Love’s Lovely Counterfeit