I recall seeing the movie of James M. Cain’s 1936 novel Double Indemnity, probably on television in the ’50, but I don’t remember the story. The book is one that helped establish him as one of the great noir fiction writers, a follow-up to The Postman Always Rings Twice, a dark violent tale, which was his first. Some say Cain created the genre. I decided to finally read it, then maybe I’ll see the movie again—see if it followed the book.
Double Indemnity is fast-paced and short. It’s about slick insurance salesman Walter Huff who meets Phyllis Nirdinger, the wife of a rich client in the petroleum business. Quickly, Huff senses that the seductive wife wants to bump off her husband and collect on an accident policy. Walter may be smart, but he’s also flawed, and Phyllis has him hooked. It didn’t take much to get him into this position, but this is 1936 America and the reader shouldn’t expect long descriptions of raw sex to solidify the link between the two. In the whole book they only kiss, and not often. Walter knows that if an “accident” occurs on a train, General Fidelity of California has to pay double. A policy for $25,000 is organized with an expected payout of $50,000—big money in 1936—apparently worth killing for.
But… Phyllis is not who she seems. She has a shadowy past. Then there is her suspicious step-daughter who has a boyfriend named Nino Sachetti that gets involved. Walter’s nosey insurance pal Keyes adds to the tension. The book is tightly written. Cain brilliantly feeds the reader new elements of the plot as the story builds. I didn’t expect the ending as it unfolded, but it worked. A very good book that I thoroughly enjoyed.