I have come late to the world of James M Cain, having found him amongst the interviewees in "The Paris Review Interviews, volume 1" itself one of the must-reads of 2007. I'm sure I was not alone in knowing him only by virtue of those novels which have been successfully transposed onto the big screen.
Even allowing for the fact that his style has been much imitated since his texts still leave the reader reeling from the casual and callous brutality which inhabits the social sub-stratum in which his characters move. Like his contemporary Runyon, with whom he shares a similar style, Cain began life as a journalist and that discipline must be credited for honing his prose as well as serving up the seeds of some of his best stories.
In "Double Indemnity" Cain brings us an insurance agent, Walter Huff, who shows that for all his street-wise salesmanship he is still susceptible in the presence of a beautiful woman to a rush of gullibility from which there is no return.
The criminal deed is set up and executed quickly and efficiently and the reader is brought up close to Huff's freefall. The real success in the book is in the unravelling of the criminal scheme and it is Huff's boss, Keyes, with his methodical process of enquiry who emerges as the true if unlikely hero of the novel.
At 136 pages this story can be consumed at a single sitting - in fact, it demands it - but it is as memorable as many classics five times its length.