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This review is from: Serenade (CRIME MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
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.
With "Serenade", however, it as much Cain's childhood which has been mined as his subsequent professional writing career. He almost followed his mother into a professional singing career and it is to that role his protagonist, baritone John Howard Sharp, has taken so successfully. Sharp has discovered, however, the truth in the old saw that you are only as good as your last review and his dramatic fall from grace has taken him to Mexico for an unenviable professional engagement from which, by the time the novel opens, he has parted company on a downward spiral. Cain wastes no time in revealing the misfortunes which can beset a penniless American in Mexico.
After teaming up with the alluring whore, Juana Montes, Sharp begins the faltering steps to his redemption and it is with that journey that the book is concerned.
No-one moves a story along quite like Cain and "Serenade" does not disappoint. It is truly memorable and stylistic. You can't help feeling that Cormac McCarthy must have been influenced by the desert sequences so clearly do they foreshadow the works of that great novelist.
I've mentioned before (reviewing "The Postman Always Rings Twice") that Cain's treatment of minorities has been well overtaken by contemporary mores. Be aware that that is clear here from the first page as Mexicans and Native Americans are crudely stereotyped in equal measure. But instead of censoring these passages they should be read to demonstrate the progress which society has made in just a few generations.