Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, October 12, 2020


 Openers:  I first met Tom Barclay at my husband's funeral. as he recalled to me later, though he made so little impression on me at the time that I had no recollection of ever having seen him before.  Mr. Garrick, the undertaker, was in the habit of calling Student Aid, at the university, for boys to help him out, but one of those chosen for the day, a junior named Don Lacey, couldn't come for some reason, and his father asked Tom as a favor to go in his place.  Tom, though he'd graduated the year before, did the honors with me, calling for me and bringing me home in a big shiny limousine.  But he rode up front with the driver, so we barely exchanged five words, and I didn't even see what he looked like.  Later, he admitted he saw what I looked like -- not my face, as I was wearing a veil, but my 'beautiful legs," as he called them.  If I paid no attention to him, I had other things on my mind:  the shock of what had happened to Ron, the tension of facing police, and the endless, unexpected glimpse of my sister-in-law's scheme to steal my little boy.  Ethel is Ron's sister, and I know quite well it's tragic that as a result of surgery she can never have a child of her own.  I hope I allow for that.  Still and all, it was a jolt to realize that she meant to keep my Tad.  I knew she loved him, of course, when I went along with her suggestion, as we might call it, that she take him until I could "readjust" and get back on my feet.  But that she might love him too much, that she might want him permanently, was something I hadn't even dreamed of.

-- James M. Cain, The Cocktail Waitress (2012)

James M. Cain, author of such well-known novels as Mildred Pierce, Double Indemnity, and The Postman Always Rings Twice, is sometimes grouped in the "Big Three*" of hard-boiled crime novelists with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.  I can see why.  He approached his themes of greed, depravity, sex, and tormented  characters in a true noir style, placing murder "back in the gutter where it belonged."  But Cain never had the pulp background of Hammett and Chandler; most of Cain's short stories appeared in a higher class of magazine -- The American Mercury, Liberty, Redbook, Esquire -- and it was only later that he appeared (in reprints) in EQMM and other mystery magazines.  Cain has been out of vogue with many of today's mystery readers (perhaps out of sight might be a better description), much like that other noirish, realistic author James T. Farrell, or, perhaps, Irving Shulman. 

Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai, however, is a big Cain fan and rates his work highly (as he should).  When Cain died at age 85, he had been working on a new novel.  By then, Cain's star had faded greatly, but he appeared determined to produce a novel that would equal his earlier work.  After his death, the novel never appeared and traces of it seemed to go up in smoke.  In 2002, writer Max Allan Collins told Ardai of a rumored book by Cain, The Cocktail Waitress.  Ardai spent nine years tracking down the book and securing the rights to publish it.

It was not an easy task.  Eventually Ardai found a manuscript and soon found a number of manuscripts for the book -- all undated, all incomplete, all contradictory, many fragmentary.  But the book was there, somewhere in this hodge-podge of notes and fragments and many variations of scenes.  It was up to Ardai to piece together the novel that Cain had written.  As I said, it was not an easy task, but Ardai produced an authentic James M. Cain novel, very close to the one he would have eventually published had he lived.

Cain deserves a re-discovery.  Even his later, poorly-received works crackle with his talent.  Sadly, as good as it is, I don't think The Cocktail Waitress had the oomph to bring about a major James M. Cain re-discovery.

* Most reader today consider the Big Three to be Hammett, Chandler, and Ross MacDonald.

A James M. Cain Bibliography:  If you have never read Cain, pick up any of these.

  • Our Government (1930) [short story collection]
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934)
  • Serenade (1937)
  • Mildred Pierce (1941)
  • Love's Lovely Counterfeit (1942)
  • Three of a Kind (1943) [contains "Career in C Major," Double Indemnity, and "The Embezzler"]
  • Past All Dishonor (1946)
  • The Butterfly (1947)
  • The Moth (1948)
  • Sinful Woman (1948)
  • Jealous Woman (1950)
  • The Root of His Evil (1951) [also published as Shameless)
  • Galatea (1953)
  • Mignon (1962)
  • The Magician's Wife (1963)
  • Rainbow's End (1975)
  • The Institute (1976)
  • The Baby in the Icebox (1981) [short story collection]
  • Cloud Nine (1984)
  • The Enchanted Isle (1985)
  • Career in C Major and Other Fiction (1986) [short story collection]
  • The Cocktail Waitress (2012) [edited by Charles Ardai]

mi-li-tia [/ma liSHa/]:  noun
  1.  a military force that is raised from the population to supplement [emphasis mine] a regular army in an emergency
  2. a military force that engages in rebel or terrorist activities in opposition to a regular army
  3. all able-bodied citizens eligible by law for military service
Which definition do you think those jamooks in Michigan belong?

Our President Incite-Discord-and-Unrest-While-Washing-His-Hands-of-All-Guilt has a lot to answer for.

We Don't Need This:  A tweet from Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA):  "Today at the grocery store, PA's Second Lady @gisellefetterman was subjected to racial slurs and taunts.  As she said:  'This hatred is taught.'  It's on us to teach our children kindness, acceptance and inclusion, and condemn hate whenever and wherever we see it."

While at her neighborhood grocery store, Mrs. Fetterman was accosted by a woman who yelled, among other things, 'There's that [n-word] that Fetterman married.  You don't belong here.  No one wants you here.  You don't belong here."  

Mrs. Fetterman was born in Brazil.  Her parents came to America when she was eight-years-old, fleeing violence in Rio de Janeiro.  For more than ten years, the  family lived in new York as illegal immigrants, fearing any knock on the door.  She received her green card in 2008 and became an American citizen in 2009.  As the wife of Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor, she has been an advocate for the arts and in promoting LGBTQ rights.  It's safe to say that she is a much better American than the woman who kept circling her in the checkout line, repeatedly yelling the n-word.

Nobel Peace Prize:  This year, the prize went to The World Food Organization,"for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution for bettering for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict."

Strangely the prize did not go to either Donald J. Trump or Vladimir Putin, both of whom had been nominated.  Why?  Inquiring minds want to know.  Oh.  Yeah, right.

The Guidance Center of the Adult Authority:  Prison reform is an important issue for today, and something we've been getting wrong for a long,  long time.  What is the purpose of a prison?  To penalize?  To reform?  To get certain people off the streets?  And why is the majority of prison population comprised of minorities and the poor?  Prison reform is just one part of the larger problem of justice reform -- including arrests, trials, and sentencing, as well as larger economic and social barriers.

Here's a rather Pollyana-ish look at what California was trying to do in 1945.  The artwork is by a prisoner known only as "Peek."

I Tried.  I Really Tried:  I really wanted to limit my flaming liberal viewpoints this week, but, sheesh!, Trump keeps dragging me back.  He thinks he is cured.  He thinks he is Superman.  (He actually wanted to rip off his shirt on leaving the hospital to reveal a Superman t-shirt.)  But the drugs he has been given have some interesting side effects, such as euphoria, paranoia, muddled thinking, and a sense of invincibility.  In this case, the drugs appear only to compound what is there.  So what we now have is a narcissistic, amoral, egomaniac who now has increased euphoria and paranoia, as evidence by his recent actions and statements.

I weep.

Ouch!:  From Britain's The Mirror comes this sad tale James (last name not given and I can see why), who, after leaving the armed forces six years ago has had a hard time establishing a relationship with a woman.  But needs must.  And so James has been using an escort service for, well, you know.  The service kindly provides photos of their escorts' bodies, but, alas, not of their faces.  So, one evening the doorbell rings and James goes to greet his latest "escort," only to discover it was his best friend's mother.

He thought, "Well, this is awkward."

His best friend's mom, however, took control of the situation and pretended she did not recognize James.  and then...ahem.

James has still not told his friend about the encounter.

If there is a moral to this story, I'll leave you to find it.

Florida Man:  As Florida gains ever ,more Covid-19 cases (think you for opening up the state, Governor DeSantis), Florida Man springs into action.
  • You can't keep a good (?) Florida Man like Demare Barnes down.  He was released after spending four years in prison and, just five days later, was arrested for attempted murder.  Perhaps he missed the cuisine.
  • An unnamed "young" Florida Man punched a a 72-year-old in the head after being asked to remove a Trump flag from his golf cart because it had profanity.  The young man, who had fled in his golf cart, later said he acted in self-defense.  I don't know whether the flag was actually pro-Trump or anti-Trump but civility (?), Florida-style, was maintained.
  • In Lauderhill, an argument Saturday at an indoor-outdoor flea market turned deadly as an unnamed Florida Man shot another in the chest.  Details are sketchy and the shoot is being questioned by the police, but here's a travel tip:  Don't get into an argument in Florida.
  • What is it with Florida Man and graphic videos?  The latest is Eduardo Alberto Montada, 56, of Miami Lakes, charged with cyber-bullying after a woman discovered that he had posted graphic videos of her taken while at the Florida Keys.  She discovered this after receiving disturbing messages on social media from people she did not know.  Needless to say, she never gave permission to have the video posted.  
  • Florida Man Michael Tucker, 48, of Port St. Lucie, has been arrested for drunkenly chasing a friend of his ex-girlfriend off his property with a machete.  The machete is one of Florida's top five weapons of choice.

  • Good News:  Nursing home residents with dementia are visited by a miniature horse when other visits are restricted
  • Spinach used to power electric vehicles?  Maybe
  • She raised $85,000 for Covid relief by scaling all 58 of Colorado's mountains
  • Planting a handful of seeds in a bare yard could relieve stress syndromes as much as eight wellfullness sessions
  • Dad builds desks for virtual students who need them
  • Greek athlete fulfills disabled woman's lifelong dream by carrying her up Mt. Olympus
  • After 3000 years, Tasmanian devils are making a comeback in mainland Australia

Today's Poem:
The Vampire

What shape is this who came to us,
With basilisk eyes so ominous,
With mouth so sweet, so poisonous,
And tortured hands so pale?
We saw her wavering to and fro,
Through dark and wind we saw her go;
Yet what her name was did not know;
And felt our spirits fall.

-- Conrad Aiken

(posted in preparation for Halloween)


  1. You know THE BLACK MASK, as the magazine was originally known, was created to generate money to support THE SMART SET, which latter featured such young writers as Hammett and Cornell Woolrich. THE AMERICAN MERCURY, essentially the heir to THE SMART SET, facing similar lack of advertising support, turned again to a crime fiction magazine as a means of financial support, ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE...

    The big three are Keeler, Bellem and Prather. I don't need a troika so much...if I had to cut down cf writers into a trio in the '20s/'30s that meant the most to Hammett, Stout, and in part for her extra-CF work as well as her criminous, Leigh Brackett.

  2. And Du Maurier might just edge out Brackett, at least in terms of being a bit closer to the heart of crime fiction, not to minimize Brackett's achievements thus.