The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M Cain

1934. Put Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange out of your mind. That movie sucks compared to the book.

Cain’s novella is a taut tale of a drifter, Frank Chambers, who arrives at an isolated gas station on the outskirts of LA; the station is run by an old world Greek immigrant, Nick, and his young midwestern wife, Cora. Right away we learn Frank’s the kind of guy unburdened by morals or scruples.

The instant he meets young Cora he knows in his gut he’ll have her. Unfortunately for the Greek, he likes Frank and he’s slow on the uptake. It’s been tough to keep able-bodied young men employed out here in the boonies, and Frank’s a hard worker.

The first chance Nick and Cora get, they seal the deal. Then it’s sex, love?, betrayal, guilt, leading to the problem of what to do with Nick.
Cain gives us three solid characters isolated with only their flaws to keep them company. And as anyone who’s ever been on the playground knows, threesomes don’t survive. It’s always going to end up two against one.

But these characters aren’t kids, they’re adults who play for keeps. The surviving twosome though never completely shakes the one they exclude. After the initial euphoria of liberty and success, the ghost of the former friend/lover/employer/spouse returns with the residue/the smell/the bitter taste of betrayal.

Love, lust, boredom, ambition, dreams, betrayal, distrust, more betrayal, defeat. Who wins? Who loses? Was it ever more than spontaneous amoral surrender to a temporary itch?

Cain packs alot into 105 pages. No wonder he burst on the scene with this book and virtually created the noir genre.

Read it twice.



M L Rudolph has worked for CNN among other American and British television and film companies. He has written for general interest and trade magazines and published his first novel, Facing the Son, A novel of Africa, on Amazon in 2011. More are on the way. Rudolph is a dual US/UK national and lives in Pasadena, CA. View all posts by M L RUDOLPH

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