Hard Case Crime will be releasing James M. Cain's final work, a never-before-published mystery titled The Cocktail Waitress in Fall 2012.
James M. Cain is widely considered one of the best noir authors — on par with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler at the top of this mystery subgenre. Best known for his gritty mystery novels including Mildred Pierce and The Postman Always Rings Twice, Cain revealed in the preface of his bestselling Double Indemnity that he did not deliberately write noir novels. Instead he said, "I make no conscious effort to be tough, or hard-boiled, or grim, or any of the things I am usually called. I merely try to write as the character would write, and I never forget that the average man, from the fields, the streets, the bars, the offices, and even the gutters of his country, has acquired a vividness of speech that goes beyond anything I could invent, and that if I stick to this heritage, this logos of the American countryside, I shall attain a maximum of effectiveness with very little effort."
Deliberately noir or not, there's no denying that the author was skilled at capturing some of the classic characters and themes of the subgenre. These are certainly evident in the manuscript of The Cocktail Waitress, which the author was doing final revisions on just before he died in 1977. (According to Hard Case Crime when they located the manuscript some of the pages were marked up with the author's handwritten notes and edits.)
Hard Case Crime founder Charles Ardai chased the rumor of this manuscript for over nine years before finally obtaining The Cocktail Waitress and the rights to publish it. Ardai says of the discovery, "[For] fans of the genre, The Cocktail Waitress is the Holy Grail. It's like finding a lost manuscript by Hemingway or a lost score by Gershwin — that's how big a deal this is."
The Cocktail Waitress features the beautiful widow Joan Medford who is being framed as a femme fatale, responsible for the death of her husband. When she becomes a waitress in order to earn a living, her situation becomes further complicated by a good-looking scoundrel and a sickly older gentleman.
As we wait for The Cocktail Waitress' 2012 publication date to arrive, we'll be stocking up on Cain's books and re-watching Billy Wilder's film adaptation of Double Indemnity, both film versions of The Postman Always Rings Twice and this year's HBO miniseries version of Mildred Pierce.