Re: RARA-AVIS: Postman Always Rings Twice

MT (
Thu, 03 Sep 1998 22:57:28 -0500 James Rogers:

<<I don't think we would have a Jim Thompson or a Willeford without Cain
blazing the trail here. Probably not a McCoy or an Ellroy either.>>

Thompson, Willeford, Ellroy, yes; but McCoy did his best work before
Cain published Postman.

<<Maybe someone else did these novels of an unrepentant, unapologetic
killer before, but I can't think of one.>>

I can't think of a novel before Postman that does this. However, there
were so many writers working for the pulps that someone is bound to have
done it - those old pulp stories could be tremendously callous.

<<Nowadays the idea has, of course, been done to death.>>

Indeed, indeed. Too much of a bad thing.

<<but it must have been shockingly fresh when it first came out and I
still find Cain's compassionate handling of it very compelling. In fact
I think he is better than Thompson in developing the reader's
identification with the killer and in teasing out the hopes that the
killer will somehow get away with it.....while at the same time
emphasising the innocence of the victim. Hard trick.>>

I agree. Thompson bowls the reader over by being weird, and he was a
genius at that game. But Cain's characters are relatively ordinary
people, who speak and act like average citizens.

<<Then too, he was one of the first, if not the first, of the writers in
the genre for whom irony was not just an occassional effect but the
penultimate effect that the book aimed for.>>

I would attribute that honor to the great Norbert Davis - however, as
old-timers know, I am unlikely to rank anybody higher than Davis.

In Cain there is a lot of irony, but also melodrama. Cain wrote
somewhere that despising melodrama was a bad thing for a writer. The
special kind of hardboiled melodrama that he invented fed several
generations, as you point out above. What I most admire in Cain is his
ability to compress the action of a story and move it forward
relentlessly (but the reader doesn't feel choked), with no padding.
_Postman_ and _Double Indemnity_ are (at least by current standards)
very short books, but because of this special ability of Cain's to
condense the action, they contain much more material than novels three
times their size.

I would also claim that Cain is in the same league as Hammett and
Whitfield when it comes to terse, perfect dialogue, but that Cain is
thematically much richer - mainly because he doesn't deal with mysteries
but with crime fiction involving ordinary people. Shall we credit him
with inventing "crime fiction" too?


Mario Taboada (trying to catch up with a lot of messages after a short
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