Review: The Cocktail Waitress by James M. Cain

James M. Cain was notably known as a giant of the crime fiction genre, iconic throughout the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, and remembered for such iconic titles as Mildred Pierce and The Postman Always Rings Twice. Upon his death Cain left behind several final works, including the unfinished manuscript for The Cocktail Waitress. After pouring over Cain’s manuscripts and notes, the folks at Hard Case Crime have finally made the gritty novel about the bombshell femme fatale available to the reading world. The Cocktail Waitress tells the story of Joan Medford, newly widowed after the death of her hard-drinking, abusive husband, leaving her at twenty-one years old without a penny to her name. Her scheming sister-in-law has assumed custody of Joan’s only bright light, her young son Tad. Broken, and with two policemen watching her every move – one of whom is determined to pin her husband’s death on her – Joan takes on a job as a cocktail waitress. Amid the seedy business of serving drinks and withstanding propositions from drunken customers, Joan finds herself wrapped up in the lives of two very different men: a young independent who grabs her heart, and an older, unwell man with enough wealth to secure a future for her and her son. Driven to destitution, Joan must guard her heart while she uncovers whether the people around her want to help her up or bring her down.

The Cocktail Waitress is a fantastic, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride courted by all the elements of a classic crime noir. With his final novel Cain proved that his prowess for writing a brilliantly suspenseful crime novel was still thriving. The protagonist, Joan, narrates the book (recording it, as she says, in order to clear her name of initially unspecified crimes). Her voice effortlessly carries the sordid story, her character so strong and vivid that the reader can almost imagine her sitting opposite, telling her tale. She’s beautiful, smart, determined – and possibly deadly. Such is the trick of Joan’s trade; whether she is, in fact, a femme fatale (namely, a murderess) is left for the reader to decide as she takes them along in the story of her life. The result of Cain’s efforts is a larger-than-life female character, a spitfire with maternal longing and a hot temper. The story Cain gave her to tell is likewise one that readers, fans of suspenseful crime fiction, will not soon forget.

The novel is explosive and compact, a quick read that builds up thrills before tearing through a series of shocks to a conclusion the reader won’t see coming – I sure didn’t. Vividly capturing a bygone era as only the inhabitants of its time could, The Cocktail Waitress is delightfully atmospheric, with boldly imagined characters and a truly hard-boiled plot, making it a terrific tribute, thirty-five years later, to one of the crime genre’s most memorable writers.

Title: The Cocktail Waitress Author: James M. Cain Genre: Crime, mystery, noir Publisher: Hard Case Crime Release date: September 18, 2012 Source: Hard Case Crime (C/O) Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Better World Books Connect with the publisher: Website | Twitter | Facebook

The Cocktail Waitress