“The Cocktail Waitress” (Titan Books, $23.99) is the never-before-published final novel written by James M. Cain. Cain was the author of noir classics “Mildred Pierce,” “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and other hard-boiled crime novels.
Cain spent his final years working on this book. Charles Ardia, founder and editor of Hard Case Crime, learned of its existence and, after more than nine years, was able to track down the manuscript and bring it to publication.
Joan Medford's abusive husband drives off, drunk and angry, in the early hours of the morning in a borrowed car. He crashes the car, killing himself.
Joan is 21 years old. She is left with a son to take care of, a hefty mortgage, no electricity and little food in the house. Worse, the police suspect she had something to do with her husband's death.
She takes a job as a cocktail waitress, where she meets two men. One is young and handsome, and she falls in love with him. The other is older and wealthy, and she marries him for security. Her son is staying with her sister-in-law, and she has to make a home for him.
But all of her plans fall apart when she realizes her greed cannot bring happiness.
The dark ending of the book was unexpected. Although it seems she gets what she deserves, it's a little harsh.
The book contains an afterword by the editor, Ardia, that details how the “lost” novel was found and published 35 years after the author's death. This makes for a good story on its own.
— Betty Lytle