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.
There's even less about postmen in this novel than there is about cuckoos in Ken Kesey's masterwork, Cain instead taking the staple of the love triangle and overlaying a morally empty tragedy of his own making. His crisp, unsparing dialogue moves the story - at 116 pages really a novella - at a fast pace and brings the reader uncomfortably close to the anxieties which spring from his protagonists' criminal escapades.
The age of the story is only betrayed in Cain's attitude towards women and racial minority groups and that aspect of this work only serves to illustrate the speed of progress on that front in the twentieth century.