A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review by Max Allan Collins:


JAMES M. CAIN Serenade

JAMES M. CAIN – Serenade. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1937. US Paperback editions include: Penguin Books #621, 1947; Signet 1153, 1954; Bantam S-3864, 1968; Vintage, 1978.

Film: 1956, with Mario Lanza and Joan Fontaine.

   Though lesser known than his more famous The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, Serenade is equally a masterpiece. Most of Cainís best work is of novella length, but Serenade is an exception; a wider canvas is required for this more ambitious work with its subject matter that was daring even for Cain.

   The operatic undertone of Cainís work comes to the fore here as an opera singer who loses his voice regains it by spending a night of lust and love with a Mexican whore in a deserted church during a thunderstorm.

JAMES M. CAIN Serenade

   When John Howard Sharp returns to New York City and his singing career, the healing prostitute, Juana, is at his side; but they are soon faced with a threat from the past, the man whose homosexual liaison with Sharp had caused the singerís traumatic loss of voice. In James M. Cain, there can only be one solution to such a situation: murder.

   But murder in Serenade isnít born of greed and petty self-interest as it is in other Cain novels. The man and woman who share this sexual adventure are admirable and self-sacrificing. Their love is noble, and their tragedy is the deepest, most affecting in all of Cain.

JAMES M. CAIN Serenade

   Cain wrote Serenade and his two other masterpieces in the 1930s; but his later, lesser (if interesting) works have tended to dilute his reputation. He is easily the peer of Hammett and Chandler, however, neither of whom wrote with Cainís unabashed passion.

   Among his better later works are Past All Dishonor (1946) and The Butterfly (1947); they are, characteristically, in the first person. Mildred Pierce (1941) is the best of Cainís third-person works. Several other completed novels are among Cainís papers, and remain unpublished.

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   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.