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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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1,250386,338 (4.08)101
Member:Chris_Grosvenor
Title:Double Indemnity
Authors:James M. Cain
Info:Vintage (1989), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 115 pages
Collections:Novels
Rating:**
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Double Indemnity by James M. Cain (1936)

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The novel begins with first person narrator Walter Huff reflecting back on the sequence of events that started when he remembered a renewal over in Hollywoodland. We read: "That was how I came to this House of Death, that you've been reading about in the papers. It didn't look like a House of Death when I saw it. It was just a Spanish house, like all the rest of them in California." This sense of foreboding hangs over each and every sentence.

Turns out Walter Huff is an insurance salesman who wants to beat the insurance Industry at its own game. Walter sees the whole world of insurance as a roulette wheel, and since he can see its inner workings from behind the scene, he wants to play the wheel and cash in. However, Walter needs a partner, that is, an outside plant, a customer willing to join him in playing the game, in placing a bet, in putting the chips down in a gamble to commit a murder that will look like suicide so he and his partner can collect big time, double indemnity, on the life insurance policy.

Walter finds his plant in Phyllis who lives with her husband and stepdaughter in that Spanish house in Hollywoodland, a house looking like all the others . But what a plant! Little does Walter know Phyllis is a flesh and blood embodiment of the goddess of death - the energy of the universe that's fierce, dark and chaotic, the energy of the universe that is your worst nightmare. Phyllis is more than happy to join Walter in killing her husband to collect the money. Of course, for Phyllis, killing her husband is much, much more than just murder and collecting from the insurance company. Phyllis loves the killing.


The writing is tight, compressed and filled to the verbal brim with tension. Here is an example of Walter Huff's reflection: "There's nothing so dark as a railroad track in the middle of the night. The train shot ahead, and I crouched there, waiting for the tingle to leave my feet. I had dropped off the left side of the train, into the footpath between the tracks, so there wouldn't be any chance I could be seen from the highway." Hard-boiled noir, anyone?

With Cain we have clear-cut, penetrating character descriptions. Here is Huff describing one of the men he must deal with at his insurance company: "Keyes is head of the Claims Department, a holdover from the old regime, and the way he tell it young Norton (the company president) never does anything right. He's big and fat and peevish, and on top of that he's a theorist, and it makes your head ache to be around him, but he's the best claims man on the Coast, and he was the one I was afraid of."

The end of the novel has Phyllis covering her face in chalk white with black circles under her eyes and with red on her lips and cheeks, rapped in a hideous red silk scarf, all ready to jump to her death from the ship she's traveling on into the ocean, to jump at night and be torn apart by sharks under a full moon. Walter, who is also on the ship, tells Phyllis he himself will join her in jumping from the ship under a full moon to be torn apart by sharks. Walter finally understands this is what happens when you have evil intentions and ask the goddess of death to be your partner in crime. Double Indemnity is James M. Cain's unforgettable, one-of-a-kind classic. ( )
1 vote GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
An excellent companion to Postman. ( )
1 vote bensdad00 | Jan 10, 2017 |
Double Indemnity was one of the defining movies of the Film Noir era and, having read the source novel you can see why. The story is taut and lean, without an ounce of fat on it. The plot is full of double crosses, the archetypal femme fatale and the poor schmuck who falls for her charms.

Told in the first person by Insurance salesman Huff, this is a dark, twisted tale of murder. James M. Cain's prose is sharp and to the point, maybe not as romantic as Chandler or Hammett, but tougher and the story moves along at a rapid pace.

One of the great thrillers. ( )
1 vote David.Manns | Nov 28, 2016 |
Very intriguing. Once I started I could not put it down. I've always loved mystery novels. And this one was amazing. I got this novel asigned for my movie and literature class and was plesantly surprised by how much i enjoyed it. This novel is about murder and I love the way it was done. Ive always read the ones where you are trying to figure out who dun it? but on this one you know. You just have to wonder Are they going to catch him? ( )
1 vote miss_booklion | Nov 6, 2016 |
Cain's original ending is so much more complicated and satisfying than the movie version. Who knew? ( )
1 vote AnnAnderson | Jun 25, 2016 |
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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 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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