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The Postman Always Rings Twice

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Overview

An amoral young tramp. A beautiful, sullen woman with an inconvenient husband. A problem that has only one grisly solution—a solution that only creates other problems that no one can ever solve.

First published in 1934 and banned in Boston for its explosive mixture of violence and eroticism, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a classic of the roman noir. It established James M. Cain as a major novelist with an...
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1992 Trade paperback Fine. No dust jacket as issued. Trade paperback (US). Glued binding. Audience: General/trade.

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The Postman Always Rings Twice

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Overview

An amoral young tramp. A beautiful, sullen woman with an inconvenient husband. A problem that has only one grisly solution—a solution that only creates other problems that no one can ever solve.

First published in 1934 and banned in Boston for its explosive mixture of violence and eroticism, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a classic of the roman noir. It established James M. Cain as a major novelist with an unsparing vision of America's bleak underside, and was acknowledged by Albert Camus as the model for The Stranger.
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Editorial Reviews

Harold Strauss
Every so often a writer turns up who forces us to revalue our notions of the realistic manner, for, no less than reality itself, it is relative and inconstant, depending on the period, the fashion, the point of view. . . . [Cain's] story is a third as long as most novels, and its success is due entirely to one quality: Cain can get down to the primary impulses of greed and sex in fewer words than any writer we know of. He has exorcised all the inhibitions.
Books of the Century; New York Times review, February 1934
From the Publisher
"A good, swift, violent story." --Dashiell Hammett

"A poet of the tabloid murder." --Edmund Wilson

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679740971
  • Publisher: Random House, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/1/1992

Meet the Author

James Mallahan Cain (1892 - 1977) was a first-rate writer of American hard-boiled crime fiction. Born in Baltimore, the son of the president of Washington College, Cain began his career as a reporter, serving in the American Expeditionary Force in World War I and writing for The Cross of Lorraine, the newspaper of the 79th Division. He returned from the war to embark on a literay career that included a professorship at St. John’s College in Annapolis and a stint at The New Yorker as managing editor before he went to Hollywood as a script writer. Cain’s famous first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, was published in 1934 when he was forty-two, and became an instant sensation. It was tried for obscenity in Boston and was said by Albert Camus to have inspired his own book, The Stranger. The infamous novel was staged in 1936, and filmed in 1946 and 1981. The story of a young hobo who has an affair with a married woman and plots with her to murder her husband and collect his insurance, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a benchmark of classic crime fiction and film noir. Two of Cain’s other novels, Mildred Pierce (1941) and Double Indemnity (1943), were also made into film noir classics. In 1974, James M. Cain was awarded the Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America. Cain published eighteen books in all and was working on his autobiography at the time of his death.
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Read an Excerpt

About three o'clock a guy came along that was all burned up because somebody had pasted a sticker on his wind wing. I had to go in the kitchen to steam it off for him.

"Enchiladas? Well, you people sure know how to make them."

"What do you mean, you people?"

"Why, you and Mr. Papadakis. You and Nick. That one I had for lunch, it was a peach."

"Oh."

"You got a cloth? That I can hold on to this thing with?"

''That's not what you meant."

"Sure it is."

"You think I'm Mex."

"Nothing like it."

"Yes, you do. You're not the first one. Well, get this. I'm just as white as you are, see? I may have dark hair and look a little that way, but I'm just as white as you are. You want to get along good around here, you won't forget that."

"Why, you don't look Mex."

"I'm telling you. I'm just as white as you are.

"No, you don't look even a little bit Mex. Those Mexican women, they all got big hips and bum legs and breasts up under their chin and yellow skin and hair that looks like it had bacon fat on it. You don't look like that. You're small, and got nice white skin, and your hair is soft and curly, even if it is black. Only thing you've got that's Mex is your teeth. They all got white teeth, you've got to hand that to them."

"My name was Smith before I was married. That don't sound much like a Mex, does it?"

"Not much."

"What's more, I don't even come from around here. I come from Iowa."

"Smith, hey. What's your first name?"

"Cora. You can call me that, if you want to."

I knew for certain, then, what I had just taken a chance on when I went in there. It wasn't thoseenchiladas that she had to cook, and it wasn't having black hair. It was being married to that Greek that made her feel she wasn't white, and she was even afraid I would begin calling her Mrs. Papadakis.

"Cora. Sure. And how about calling me Frank?"

She came over and began helping me with the wind wing. She was so close I could smell her. I shot it right close to her ear, almost in a whisper. "How come you married this Greek, anyway?"

She jumped like I had cut her with a whip. "Is that any of your business?"

"Yeah. Plenty."

"Here's your wind wing."

"Thanks."

I went out. I had what I wanted. I had socked one in under her guard, and socked it in deep, so it hurt. From now on, it would be business between her and me. She might not say yes, but she woudn't stall me. She knew what I meant, and she knew I had her number.

That night at supper, the Greek got sore at her for not giving me more fried potatoes. He wanted me to like it there, and not walk out on him like the others had.

"Give a man something to eat."

"They're right on the stove. Can't he help himself?"

"It's all right. I'm not ready yet."

He kept at it. If he had bad any brains, he would have known there was something back of it, because she wasn't one to let a guy help himself, I'll say that for her. But he was dumb, and kept crabbing. It was just the kitchen table, he at one end, she at the other, and me in the middle. I didn't look at her. But I could see her dress. It was one of these white nurse uniforms, like they all wear, whether they work in a dentist's office or a bakeshop. It had been clean in the morning, but it was a little bit rumpled now, and mussy. I could smell her.

"Well for heaven's sake."

She got up to get the potatoes. Her dress fell open for a second, so I could see her leg. When she gave me the potatoes, I couldn't eat. "Well there now. After all that, and now he doesn't want them."

"Hokay. But he have'm, if he want 'm."

"I'm not hungry. I ate a big lunch."

He acted like he had won a great victory, and now he would forgive her, like the big guy he was. "She is a all right. She is my little white bird. She is my little white dove."

He winked and went upstairs. She and I sat there, and didn't say a word. When he came down he had a big bottle and a guitar. He poured some out of the bottle, but it was sweet Creek wine, and made me sick to my stomach. He started to sing. He had a tenor voice, not one of these little tenors like you hear on the radio, but a big tenor, and on the high notes he would put in a sob like on a Caruso record. But I couldn't listen to him now. I was feeling worse by the minute.

He saw my face and took me outside. "Out in a air, you feel better."

'S all right. I'll be all right."

"Sit down. Keep quiet."

"Go ahead in. I just, ate too much lunch. I'll be all right."

He went in, and I let everything come up. It was like hell the lunch, or the potatoes, or the wine. I wanted that woman so bad I couldn't even keep anything on my stomach.


Next morning the sign was blown down. About the middle of the night it had started to blow, and by morning it was a wind-storm that took the sign with it.

"It's awful. Look at that."

"Was a very big wind. I could no sleep. No sleep all night."

"Big wind all right. But look at the sign."

"Is busted."'

I kept tinkering with the sign, and he would come out and watch me. "How did you get this sign anyway?"

"Was here when I buy the place. Why?"

"It's lousy all right. I wonder you do any business at all."

I went to gas up a car, and left him to think that over. When I got back he was still blinking at it, where it was leaning against the front of the lunchroom. Three of the lights were busted. I plugged in the wire, and half of the others didn't light.

"Put in new lights, hang'm up, will be all right."

"You're the boss."

"What's a matter with it?"

"Well, it's out of date. Nobody has bulb signs any more. They got Neon signs. They show up better, and they don't burn as much juice. Then, what does it say? Twin Oaks, that's all. The Tavern part, it's not in lights. Well, Twin Oaks don't make me hungry. It don't make me want to stop and get something to eat. It's costing you money, that sign, only you don't know it.''

"Fix'm up, will be hokay."

"Why don't you get a new sign?"

"I'm busy."

But pretty soon he was back, with a piece of paper. He had drew a new sign for himself, and colored it up with red, white, and blue crayon. It said Twin Oaks Tavern, and Eat, and Bar-B-Q, and Sanitary Rest Rooms, and N. Papadakis, Prop.

"Swell. That'll knock them for a loop."

I fixed up the words, so they were spelled right, and he put some more curlycues on the letters.

"Nick, why do we hang up the old sign at all? Why don't you go to the city today and get this new sign made? It's a beauty, believe me it is. And it's important. A place is no better than it's sign, is it?"

"I do it. By golly, I go."


Los Angeles wasn't but twenty miles away, but he shined him-self up like he was going to Paris, and right after lunch, he went. Soon as he was gone, I locked the front door. I picked up a plate that a guy had left, and went on back in the kitchen with it. She was there.

''Here's a plate that was out there.

"Oh, thanks."

I set it down. The fork was rattling like a tambourine.

"I was going to go, but I started some things cooking and I thought I better not."

"I got plenty to do, myself."

"You feeling better?"
"I'm all right."

"Sometimes just some little thing will do it. Like a change of water, something like that."

"Probably too much lunch."

"What's that?"

Somebody was out front, rattling the door. "Sounds like somebody trying to get in."

"Is the door locked, Frank?"

"I must have locked it."

She looked at me, and got pale. She went to the swinging door, and peeped through. Then she went into the lunchroom, but in a minute she was back.

"They went away.

"I don't know why I locked it."

"I forgot to unlock it."

She started for the lunchroom again, but I stopped her. "Let's--leave it locked."

"Nobody can get in if it's locked. I got some cooking to do. I'll wash up this plate."

I took her in my arms and mashed my mouth up against hers.... "Bite me! Bite me!"

I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 34 )
Rating Distribution

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(19)

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(10)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 34 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 12, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The Postman Always Rings Twice

    Along with Raymond chandler and Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain is often considered the pioneers of hard-boiled crime fiction, and while I do prefer Chandler and Hammett, my first novel by Cain was a thrilling ride. Unlike his peers, Cain focuses less on P.I's and more on the criminals and Frank, the narrator, is one bad dude. Postman is filled with greed, lust, sex, and violence that all formed a great novel. Needless to say, I will continue to be entertained by the works of James M. Cain.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2014

    I think this is a delightful novel that helps us realize at leas

    I think this is a delightful novel that helps us realize at least one thing, (learning about something through investigation).
    Aren’t all of us in pursuit of love and happiness? Of course, most of us don’t plot a way out of marriage to walk into another’s arms ...
    and in most all relationships -three is a crowd. The grass usually looks greener until we get close up and realize the mistake we made,
    which can sometimes turn into a dangerous situation.Will the jaded, flawed characters in this novel find what they are looking for? Or will they find more than they bargained for?I hope you read this passionate novel.Jeannie Walker (Award-Winning Author) 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2013

    Highly Recommend - worth the read!

    The novel has love, lust, greed, triangulated relationships and the moral consequences of these sins. It still fun to read/watch others fall from grace and have little, if no, regrets.

    I've seen both movies, the older version with John Garfield and Lana Turner my favorite, but the book was still a great read. I enjoyed seeing how the author pictured his story. A great film noir classic in book & film!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2013

    Hi

    Wanna go out

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 14, 2012

    The Book That Launched a Genre

    This book is a quick read. The plot moved swiftly and there are enough twists and turns to keep anyone interested. The two main characters actually seem believable. Believable enough that some parts of the book actually made me uncomfortable. The ending was a surprise to top it all off.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2012

    An Interesting Mystery Read

    An interesting plot with interesting twists and turns. If its your first mystery book, be sure to give it a try.

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  • Posted January 9, 2012

    Indispensable

    If it sounds like a likely candidate based on its classification as crime/noir, you simply must read it.

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  • Posted September 7, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommended-you must check it out!

    I had read Mildred Pierce by this author first. I thought it was a very good book so I decided to see what else head written. I came across this book and ready the synopsis on this. when I read that this was controversial....I thought hmm.. let me see why this is so controversial. I read the book on my NOOK in two days ( since I work outside the home and inside the home.) It has a good story line and the ending kind of left you wondering what was going to happen to the main character. Mr. Cain is a very good writer and wold recommend this book to anybody who likes twists and turns in their story. A real page turner!~ Sundropgirl

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  • Posted April 30, 2010

    Great novel!

    I now know why this novel is considered among the greatest novels of the 20th century. A must read for the mystery fan.

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  • Posted February 23, 2009

    The Postman Always Rings Twice is SUpER!

    This is a very small but passionate book. IT has to be one of the best books i have ever read! This has to be put on ever book list for books that you have to read before your eye sight goes bad.... The characters are real and just alive... please please please read this book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2007

    Pulp Noir Classic

    James M. Cain's pulp noir classic helped popularize the 'hardboiled' style of the Mystery genre. The plot is simple yet intriguing: Drifter Frank Chambers commences an affair with Cora Papadakis, and conspires with her to murder her husband Nick. These goings-on were saucy enough to earn the book a banning in Boston upon its initial publication in 1934, and the story holds up well enough today, with plenty of twists and double-crosses. As with most books in the hardboiled genre, a good story isn't enough -- Cain sets the bar high with a palpably sordid setting populated with devious characters, and unapologetically gritty yet stark prose. Don't get distracted by the non-sequitur in the title -- there is no postman in the story. Although there are many theories about the title 'and author Cain gave more than one explanation for it', most readers accept it metaphorically, with Chambers awaiting the consequences of his actions. It's an entertaining read, and better yet, one that stays with you after you finish it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2002

    Excellent Crime/Detective Story

    I enjoyed this short novel very much and finished it in a few hours. No wonder it was adapted into a film. As you read it you can actually picture it. The way those 2 get out of their own 'troubles' is amazingly well explained. But then again, what goes around comes around so you will be surprised by the ending (if you haven't seen the movie yet).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2011

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    Posted February 13, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2009

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    Posted May 25, 2011

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