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#98….The Postman Always Rings Twice

September 13, 2009

“I’m not what you think I am, Frank. I want to work and be something, that’s all. But you can’t do it without love. Do you know that, Frank? Anyway, a woman can’t. Well, I’ve made one mistake. And I’ve got to be a hell cat, just once, to fix it. But I’m not really a hell cat, Frank.”

James M. Cain, author of The Postman Always Rings Twice, refused to be locked in to his reputation as a member of the “hard boiled school of crime fiction”, commenting “I belong to no school, hard-boiled or otherwise“. In fact, Cain had wanted to be an opera singer, but didn’t have the voice for it. As a journalist for the Baltimore Sun and the New York World in the 1920’s, Cain was probably exposed to sensationalist stories similar to the story he tells in Postman, which is reputed to have been based on a real life case. Drifter Frank Chambers is the wrong man in the wrong place, when he walks into a small café in the middle of nowhere and collides with Cora Papadakis, the wife of the café’s owner. Frank takes a job there and sparks fly between them, and Cora decides the only way out of her loveless marriage is for the two of them to kill her husband Nick. Nearly caught on the first attempt, the second attempt is successful, but brings more consequences than either Frank or Cora imagined.

Cain’s main characters were “often self-destructive, or used by stronger women.” Postman is no exception to this. Although Frank has a rough edge to his character, Cora is truly the ‘hell cat’ she describes herself as. Their affair is passionate, anything but tender, and unfortunately Nick’s death does not bring them the happiness they seek. Both toy with the idea of killing each other and Cora even gives Frank a chance to do this. Accountability for crimes is a dish best served hot.

As I’m sure millions of other readers have done, I looked throughout the book for any mention of a postman ringing twice, or even once, and came up with nothing. I found this quote to explain the title’s origin on Wikipedia:

With the “postman” being God, or Fate, the “delivery” meant for Frank was his own death as just retribution for murdering Nick. Frank had missed the first “ring” when he initially got away with that killing. However, the postman rang again, and this time the ring was heard.”

The book was rather short and the story pretty straightforward. Like with any murder mystery, it was very suspenseful and I do believe everyone got what was coming to them in the end. Not high in the profundity department but enjoyable nonetheless. Anyone from the John Grisham school will be happy.


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