Renowned crime noir author James M. Cain speaks from the dead in “The Cocktail Waitress,”his nearly finished novel discovered 35 years after his death thanks to Hard Case Crime, an American publisher of hardboiled crime novels. The paperback crime novels of the ‘40s and ‘50s are resurrected in their fictional works, showcasing suspense and drama from the minds of nobility like Cain as well as contemporary authors.In “The Cocktail Waitress,” fetching 20-something Joan Medford shares her story of love, loss and passion in 1950s Washington, D.C. suburbia. Following her alcoholic husband’s death in a suspicious single-car accident, she finds herself penniless and alone. Overwhelmed with her circumstances, Joan lets her shrewd sister-in-law care for her young child, Tad, while she begins a new chapter and, hopefully, finds employment.Joan is soon taken on as a cocktail waitress at the Garden of Roses, a local bar and restaurant where some waitresses provide extra service if the price is right. Considering her buxom good looks, Joan fits in well and soon catches the eye of an elderly widower, Earl K. White III. His appeal starts and ends with his extravagant tips and wealth, which would provide the life she desperately wants for Tad.Things are further complicated by Tom Barclay, a young, impulsive man who lusts for Joan but is physically aggressive, degrading and, at times, a scheming rat. However, despite all his flaws, Joan can’t ignore her attraction.
Is it wealth and security for the sake of her son or instability and possibly losing her son forever for the sake of lust? The Earl-Tom-Joan triangle twists and turns throughout as the story unfolds.
Full disclosure: I’ve never read a James M. Cain novel before embarking on the journey of “The Cocktail Waitress.” This review won’t be an ode to his mastery or a comparison of this last work to his collection. This is a look at “The Cocktail Waitress” free from prejudice.
First of all, no spoilers. Like any good crime novel, there are dark twists and turns that need to be experienced free from big mouth reviewers like me. As for the novel, the straightforward and dialogue-heavy writing style in combination with suspenseful and steamy scenes helped me quickly read chapter after chapter. I enjoyed the gritty realism and drama, reminiscent of a soap opera.
My favorite part of “The Cocktail Waitress” was weighing the reliability of the narrator, Joan. As the twists and turns unfolded, I began to question her naive persona. Is she a damsel in distress as she proclaims or a femme fatale? This uncertainty adds a unique layer to the drama-filled story.
If you enjoy hardboiled crime fiction, check out the novels from Hard Case Crime – www.hardcasecrime.com. I also enjoyed “The Twenty-Year Death” by Ariel S. Winter (Read the review here). — Kate Vendetta
“The Cocktail Waitress” is available for pre-order on Amazon and will be released Sept. 18, 2012.