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Double Indemnity by James M. Cain
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Double Indemnity (original 1936; edition 1989)

by James M. Cain

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1,013268,409 (4.07)72
Member:Chris_Grosvenor
Title:Double Indemnity
Authors:James M. Cain
Info:Vintage (1989), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 115 pages
Collections:Novels
Rating:**
Tags:None

Work details

Double Indemnity by James M. Cain (1936)

  1. 30
    The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain (391)
    391: Same author, similar style, fascinating read.
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Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
When I was reading Double Indemnity, I kept thinking that James Cain worked in the insurance business at some point, and this book was his fantasy about how to pull off the perfect insurance fraud scheme. The book did not do much for me. I much prefer Hammett or Chandler. ( )
  akissner | Apr 21, 2014 |
A few weeks ago I came in late from the pub, turned on the TV and sat through a brilliant old black and white film called Double Indemnity. The next morning the film had left such an impression I decided to read up on its background, found out that is was adapted from a novel and the rest as they say, is history.

I had heard of 'noir', but was never really sure of what it stood for or encapsulated. However, after reading Double Indemnity I have a much better understanding. The book is written in a way I have never encountered before. The sentences are sharp, direct and to the point. Cain wastes no words. I think this is one of the only novels I have read where I have not found any extra padding. The author says all that he needs to say and nothing more, and this shows by the novel covering barely 130 pages. The only other Author I am familiar with that even comes close to this is Cormac McCarthy. You feel every word, sentence, comma and full stop was placed there for a reason. If I had to describe the novel I would say it is like McCarthy but with little descriptive prose and less flamboyancy with the language. I know many people may disagree with this comparison, but as I was working my way through the pages I kept thinking how similar they are in the way they ensure every single word adds something to the readers experience.

The plot of the novel is pretty much straightforward, an insurance salesman meets the wife of a businessman and together then conjure up a scheme whereby they can sell and then claim on his life insurance. A plan is hatched that they both consider foolproof, but as the novel progresses small mistakes begin to unravel into larger issues and the pressure mounts. Other individuals are drawn into the circle such as the businessman's daughter and the insurance mans methodical boss. The characters behave differently to how I would have imagined and I am unsure whether this is because the novel has dated slightly (rather like Neville Shute's works) or if this is a reflection of the Noir period. But what I do know is that from the first page I was gripped. Very often I will read a book and think to myself 'does that sound realistic?, and if the answer is no, a certain amount of enjoyment is taken away. Strangely this was not the case here, I just kept wanting to read further and further, especially when the characters past history slowly became apparent. For example, from the first meeting of Phyllis Nirdlinger and Walter Huff they start to bounce off each other and the bones of the scam start to fall into place. Would this really happen that quickly with no trust built between the two?

Despite the lack of length I feel this book will remain with me for a long time, and like all good novels a number of questions will need to be answered such as what would I be prepared to do for a large amount of cash? Would I be able to be manipulated by a femme fatale? Could I be a Walter Huff, always on the lookout for the ideal opportunity to make a quick buck?

Fans of the film will find a very different ending to the one they are accustomed to. A number of reviewers have marked the novel down in their reviews because of this. I may be in the minority but I preferred the ending Cain chose. It has a slightly disturbed ring to it, but I feel it fits more closely with the characters state of mind.

I would recommend this read to anyone regardless of what genre of fiction they would usually indulge. As mentioned, the length is fairly short so why not take a chance? I did, and am glad I did so. ( )
  Bridgey | Mar 17, 2014 |
This book isn't a straight out mystery as originally thought. It definitely noir, but a book about murder and insurance. A bored insurance salesman get involved with bored housewife who wants a more glamorous life. The writing is short, to the point. The insurance salesman is thinly characterized. Its not that he's cardboard... just that all unnecessary details are left out. Same goes with the housewife. There isn't much to her, although we find out her history as the story goes on.

The story is set in the 30's. Which is an odd time period. Women are kept more as pets... insurance salesmen go door to door. But, it is also quite modern. The scheme that is developed is quite intricate. The caution put into the plan to mislead investigators is a sign of the world of forensic science.

Still on the whole, its a good book, well written, and well developed. But its a bit too dry, its hard to care about the lead characters. ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Mar 8, 2014 |
OK, having read the countless reviews for Double Indemnity I’m left in no doubt that this is considered as one of the greatest books from the American noir, hard boiled genre. In many quarters it is considered a classic with James M.Cain as the master of noir. I really don’t want to argue with the majority, however, having finished the book, I do seem to be at odds. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy it. I loved the story especially the staccato style narration which had me thinking of Spillane’s Mike Hammer every 3 minutes. I also liked the fact that it’s a short, snappy story which took me an afternoon to read. I just haven’t been left with that ‘wow’ four or five star ‘classic’ feeling. This annoys me, not least of all because I can’t explain why.

According to Wiki, Double Indemnity is a novella which was initially written as an eight part serial for Liberty Magazine. Our narrator and main protagonist, Walter Huff, is an insurance salesman who has been doing the job longer than he cares to remember. One day he sets out to visit a customer in order to sell an insurance renewal. The customer isn’t at home, Huff has a chance meeting with the wife and, as is befitting for this era and style, when a man meets a woman, trouble is not far behind. From this initial meeting, the couple go on to develop a relationship which enables them to hatch and carry out an insurance scam centering around the murder of the husband.

Ah, if only he’d have been at home…..

“Three days later she called and left word I was to come at three-thirty. She let me in herself. She didn’t have the blue pajamas this time. She had on a white sailor suit, with a blouse that pulled tight over her hips, and white shoes and stockings. I wasn’t the only one that knew about that shape. She knew about it herself, plenty.” (p.10)

Huff narrates the tale in the ‘classic’ noir style which I did enjoy. The delivery consists of short, sharp phrases and sentences which bring to mind the classic noir films. It’s very much dialogue driven rather than descriptive.

I can’t deny that Double Indemnity is a great little book and definitely one of its time. It’s snappy, stylish and the 30s/40s black and white film style oozes from the pages. It’s strong on story telling and, in the usual noir style, has its corrupted and corruptible characters – unlikeable people with no redeeming features and no shades of grey. If you’re a fan of the slick, sharp, dialogue driven crime fiction tale then Double Indemnity is the one for you.

I did enjoy it but the book just didn’t hit that 'wow' button for me. ( )
  lilywren | Jan 1, 2014 |
There's "noir," as in, "it's-actually-hardboiled-but-that-requires-three-syllables-to-say," and then there's real "noir" as in, "this-world-is-so-dark-that-the-only-thing-that-stops-this-from-being-a-dystopia-is-that-it-supposedly-takes-place-in-the-real-world." James M. Cain was a master of the second variety. His terse, simplistic structure, vivid imagery, distinctive male gaze, and liberal use of femme fatales all had tremendous influence on the genre, especially on other landmark authors such as Raymond Chandler. Cain is probably my favorite out of the "dark noir" subgenre--probably because his books are only about 100 pages. How depressed can you possibly get from only 100 pages? You'd be surprised.

Walter Huff, a hardworking and practical insurance man, stops by an acquaintance's house and receives a proposition from the man's wife: help her murder her husband.

I know that I'm supposed to be horrified by the sociopathic femme fatale who cynically uses her sexuality to enthrall the hapless insurance man. From the first moment he sees her, Huff is entranced by her appearance, and every description is an accusation. The way he tells the story, her clothing, her eyes, her mouth, her curves are to blame for the relationship, not Huff. She was "asking for it." Yet if you examine the actual events, Huff is the one who initiates a relationship; when he kisses her, she freezes and then capitulates. Maybe our oh-so-wicked femme fatale was thinking about it, but despite Huff's surety, she still wavers: "Please, Walter, don't let me do this. It's simply insane." Huff is the one who brings up murder. Huff is the one who actually states that they need to go through with it. Huff is the one who suggests double indemnity. hover for spoiler So maybe Phyllis is as diabolical as Huff paints her. But how is he any better?

Cain's characters do not live in a world of greys; they have strayed far past the threshold between good and evil. It is a book firmly rooted in its time, where Huff's Filipino "houseboy" is not even given the dignity of a name and is repeatedly referred to as "the Filipino." My fascination stems from horror; the way the characters can casually and matter-of-factly speak of such atrocities is both repulsive and riveting. As Huff says, "There comes a time in any murder when the only thing that can see you through is audacity." It is this audacity, the thrill of the heist, the "prestige," as Christopher Priest would say, that makes this book difficult to put down. It is also hard to turn away from the inevitability of the tragedy. As Huff says, "That's all it takes: one drop of fear to curdle love into hate."

It turns out that 100 pages can be very depressing indeed.
( )
  page.fault | Sep 21, 2013 |
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I drove out to Glendale to put three new truck drivers on a brewery company bond, and then I remembered this renewal over in Hollywoodland.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679723226, Paperback)

When smalltime insurance salesman Walter Huff meets seductive Phyllis Nirdlinger, the wife of one of his wealthy clients, it takes him only minutes to determine that she wants to get rid of her husband--and not much longer to decide to help her do it. Walter knows that accident insurance pays double indemnity on railroad mishaps, so he and Phyllis plot frantically to get Nirdlinger on--and off--a train without arousing the suspicions of the police, the insurance company, Nirdlinger's dishy daughter, her mysterious boyfriend, or Nirdlinger himself. This brief but complex novel is a perfect example of the ordinary-guy-gone-disastrously-wrong story that Cain always pulls off brilliantly.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:01:36 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Walter Huff is an insurance investigator like any other until one day he meets the beautiful and dangerous Phyllis Nirdlinger and falls under her spell. Together they plot to kill her husband and split the insurance. It'll be the perfect murder... Double Indemnity is the classic tale of an evil woman motivated by greed who corrupts a weak man motivated by lust.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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