JAMES M. CAIN – Love’s Lovely Counterfeit.

Vintage, paperback reprint; 1st pr., 1979. First edition: Alfred A. Knopf, 1942. Other paperback reprints include: Avon Murder Monthly 44, 1947; Signet 1445, 1957.

JAMES CAIN Love's Lovely Counterfeit

   The brief biography of Cain at the end of the book I read, published in 1979, describes him as being “recognized today as one of the masters of the hard-boiled school of American novels.” It’s almost 25 years later, and wondering if that were still true, I decided to see how many of his books are still in print.

   Thanks to the folks at Black Lizard, among others, I can report that you can buy any or all of the following novels in new, currently available editions: Mildred Pierce, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and The Magician’s Wife. And that’s it. Next month [April 2003] Everyman’s Library is coming out with a omnibus edition (matching their Raymond Chandler books) containing the same first three of the four novels above, plus five short stories.

   It’s a must have, but there should be more. The rest of his work seems to have disappeared, including the one at hand. Cain’s reputation seems to have boiled down to only the three novels, plus word of mouth among collectors of vintage paper.


[INSERT] 04-28-09. I’ve just checked online, and unless I’ve missed something, nothing has changed since I first wrote this review.


JAMES CAIN Love's Lovely Counterfeit

   So it’s like this: If you’re a fan of tough guy novels and you ever find a used copy of Love’s Lovely Counterfeit, grab it up.

   It’s the story of Ben Grace, a small-time chiseler in the rackets — not crooked, not straight, just in between — who, full of grievances, makes the most of his inside information as Sol Caspar’s chauffeur to aid and abet the opposing party’s upcoming mayoral election campaign. His ally (and soon-to-be lover) in the enemy camp is a very good-looking girl named June Lyons, who is also very dedicated to justice.

   It sounds predictable, but it Cain’s hands, it’s anything but. It may seem strange to say, but works of fiction are usually less complicated than the real world, as who would believe the twists and turns that real life can have? But when you think the story’s going one way, Cain heads it off in another. Or, perhaps, he lets it go off in another, on its own, as if he set the characters up, and then he let them find their own destiny, their own fate. Which, of course, they do.

   As a footnote, Cain often has a unique touch in the way he describes people. From page 87:

JAMES CAIN Love's Lovely Counterfeit

    “In [Inspector Cantrell’s] manufacture, one would say that God had started with the feet, shaping them delicately; then proceeded to the body, making it strong and at the same time supple, not too large and not too small; then reached the head as the whistle blew for lunch. It was a round, bulletlike head, on the front of which a face had indeed been moulded, but a face hastily conceived, whose component parts didn’t noticeably match; the heavy jaw was out of kilter with the narrow, low forehead; the right side was seamy, the left side not; it was even somewhat out of plumb, skewing off at an angle in a baffling way. Yet its dark mahogany color gave a startling, sharklike vividness to the light blue eyes, so that while one might instinctively avoid Mr. Cantrell, one would hardly trifle with him.”

   Or, this description of June Lyons, as she appears later in the book (page 111):

JAMES CAIN Love's Lovely Counterfeit

    “She too had changed since that night a few months ago when she had made the speech at the high school auditorium, and a man had made a note in a little red book. The neat, school-teacherish blue silk had given way to a smart black polka-dot, with belt, bag, and shoes of coral alligator skin, hat of red straw, and stockings of powdery sheer that set off an exciting pair of legs. It all combined beautifully with her dark creamy good looks, and it seemed that perhaps she knew it. She came in with languid hauteur, or at least the imitation of languid hauteur; it might be recent, but it was innocent.”

   I didn’t write either of these two passages. All I did was type them. It only makes me wish I could write.

— March 2003