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Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.

The Cocktail Waitress (Hard Case Crime)

The Cocktail Waitress - James M. Cain

I know James M. Cain from old movies adapted from his novels, not the books themselves, so as I was reading The Cocktail Waitress I saw the action playing out in shadowy black and white scenes, a fitting way to experience this dark but seductive story. Told in the first person, Joan Medford is a young woman working as a hot-pants clad cocktail waitress so she can earn enough money to bring her son back home. As the book opens her abusive husband has just died in a car accident, her electricity, heat and phone are turned off because of unpaid bills, and little Tad is staying with Joan’s sister-in-law, who hopes to keep him for her own. Men in Joan’s life keep dying, but though she admits her temper is often her undoing she’s innocent . . . or is she? Since Joan is the narrator we only have her word for it, and Cain is known for letting the bad guys tell the story while still managing to keep them somewhat likeable.


This is James M. Cain’s last novel, discovered and now published many years after his death. Because there were multiple versions of some sections choices had to be made by the editor, but it all hangs together, with passion and scheming leading to an especially unsettling twist at the end. Cain set this story in Maryland near Washington, DC which is where he spent the last years of his life, and readers familiar with the area will recognize some of the neighborhoods and even a few of the businesses he mentions in the book.