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Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

Double Indemnity (original 1936; edition 1989)

by James M. Cain

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1,130297,306 (4.08)90
Title:Double Indemnity
Authors:James M. Cain
Info:Vintage (1989), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 115 pages

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Double Indemnity by James M. Cain (1936)


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When small time insurance man Walter Huff meets Phyllis Nirdlinger, her beauty quickly seduced him. The wife of a wealthy oil executive convinces him to help get rid of her husband, but not before a substantial policy was taken out on him. Accident insurance often causes suspicion but when Phyllis’ husband dies from what looks like a train accident, double indemnity kicks in and Walter’s bosses suspect foul play.

James M. Cain is the master at noir with books like The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce and recently The Cocktail Waitress was released posthumously. Double Indemnity is one of his most notable pieces of work and was adapted into the 1944 classic film noir movie of the same name. The movies screenplay was written by fellow master of pulp Raymond Chandler and has been dubbed culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant by the US Library of Congress.

Double Indemnity is a clause often found in accident insurance policies where the issuer agrees to pay double (or more) if the accident happens in certain conditions. It is often used to make the policy more appealing but applies to low risk incidents. Death by train accident is one of these examples and when Phyllis’ husband died in these conditions the insurance company was naturally suspicious.

This classic pulp novel follows Walter Huff who plots the perfect murder all for the beautiful Phyllis Nirdlinger. What he didn’t count on was that he was seduced into helping a femme fatale and now he was under her thumb. In true James M. Cain style, Double Indemnity holds nothing back, both in style and plot. Everything you expect in a 1930s noir novel can be found in this thrilling novella.

This is a re-read for me of Double Indemnity and I must admit I was so happy to return to the style of James M. Cain. Everything you expect from the pulp style and dialogue can be found within this classic story. I know I need to dive into some more of Cain’s novels, with some re-reads and completing his bibliography. I have no words to describe the feeling of returning to a much-loved author and I know I need to re-watch the movie. If you have never read Cain or anything from the classic pulp genre, then you can never go wrong with a book like Double Indemnity.

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2015/06/29/double-indemnity-by-james-m-cain/ ( )
  knowledge_lost | Jun 29, 2015 |
The 1944 Billy Wilder directed film Double Indemnity has long been one of my favorite movies so I was quite excited to finally be reading the original story by James M. Cain. This hard-boiled classic tells the story of Walter Huff, an insurance salesman, and Phyllis Nirdlinger, a woman with a desire to rid herself of her husband. Water is obsessively drawn to Phyllis and before too long finds himself planning a perfect murder, one that will rid them of the unnecessary husband and also bring them a large payoff on the accident insurance policy that includes a double indemnity clause.

This dark tale of obsession, guilt, suspicion and retribution is taunt and full of suspense. The intricate plot moves the story along, and the author wastes no words with his straight forward delivery. My only complaint is with the ending which I found rather convoluted and drawn out. This is one case where I believe the film version with it’s classic ending provided by Wilder and Raymond Chandler far exceeds the book. Double Indemnity was well worth the read, but I would encourage everyone to see the film which is a masterpiece. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Feb 8, 2015 |
One can't feel much remorse for the fate of a James Cain character. They are sad and pitiable, but they are also reprehensible. Another good short novel -- the action ends in a poetic, tragic irony that truly appeals to the reader. A fine book. ( )
  AliceAnna | Oct 19, 2014 |
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. ( )
1 vote Bridgey | Mar 17, 2014 |
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:44 -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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