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Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

Double Indemnity (1936)

by James M. Cain

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English (47)  Italian (2)  Spanish (1)  All languages (50)
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
Yikes! I read this on one day, and I read at only half the speed required for success in college, or so I was told back in my youth. Well, it was short, but also compelling. Not something one could easily put down once begun. Cain is a good author, if you like noir-y kinds of things. This is about as noir-y as it gets. A nice change from the heavier kinds of things I'd been reading.

So, an insurance agent, Walter Huff, makes a call on a client, Mr. Nirdlinger, who isn't home. Nirdlinger's wife, Phyllis comes down to meet Huff, and Huff is immediately smitten. Together they hatch a rather convoluted plot to insure Mr. Nirdlinger against accidental death with a double indemnity clause that kicks in should the accident occur in specific ways, such as being killed by an accident on a train. So, we get lots of plotting and practice.

Then, it seems, Phyllis has a 19-year old step daughter, Lola. Huff becomes rather enamored by Lola. Lola has a boyfriend, Nino, who may or may not be a sketchy character. Apparently, he is finishing up his Ph.D. in chemistry, but there are other things about him which may or may not be savory. Suffice to say the Nirdlingers did not approve of the alliance in the least.

Well, I could go on, but I can't write a plot summary nearly so well as Cain can write and flesh out the plot itself. One would be best to head for the nearest library, or book store if you prefer, and snag a copy. This is a true gem one should not miss.
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  lgpiper | Jun 21, 2019 |
This was my first note and I quite enjoyed it. Tight writing, good storytelling, and an interesting plot. I’ll give the movie a watch as well, since I’m not well versed in older films. Overall, an enjoyable read! ( )
  mediumofballpoint | Mar 4, 2019 |
M. Cain: Three Complete Novels: The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce
  darlenebuckner | Mar 2, 2019 |
A psychologically fascinating, dialogue-driven short novel of murder, betrayal, revenge, and questions about human nature. Which of us could commit a murder for money? Maybe the last person you'd expect. Taut, ruthless, and unpredictable. ( )
  AmandaGStevens | Mar 2, 2019 |

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. Alert: my review contains what could be considered spoilers.

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.

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  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
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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)

Tautly narrated and excruciatingly suspenseful, Double Indemnity gives us an X-ray view of guilt, of duplicity, and of the kind of obsessive, loveless love that devastates everything it touches. First published in 1936, this novel reaffirmed James M. Cain as a virtuoso of the roman noir.… (more)

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