James Cain’s Lost Novel The Cocktail Waitress | Richland Library Skip to content

James Cain’s Lost Novel The Cocktail Waitress

Author James Cain best known for The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce has a new novel published 35 years after his death. He began it in 1975 and died in 1977. James Cain is one of the “big three” of crime classics with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. His work Mildred Pierce is a recent HBO award winning series. Before his death at the age of 87, he put elements of his life into one last novel-angina and nitroglycerine pills. He borrowed from his best known work of a young attractive woman getting out of a bad marriage, an older man, a handsome young man, economic challenges and implication in her husbands’ death. The Cocktail Waitress story is told in the main character’s own words and viewpoint. Cain worked on his novel up to his death and it was found in the files of a deceased Hollywood agent. There was a whole manuscript, several partial ones, fragments, lines on notebook paper and another draft labeled “original”. Its completion took nine more years. The reviewer compares the main character, Joan Medford, to Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce. In the editor’s afterword, the story of the publication of the “lost” manuscript describes the collection of its pieces like a mystery solved.


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