Monday, December 17, 2012

Nick's Picks, 100 Notable Books of 2012 - 66, 65...

#66:  The Cocktail Waitress, by James Cain.  Hard Case Crime.  $23.99.
Ah!  This work is Notable because it's the lost novel of James M. Cain.   He started it a few years before his death and never saw its publication.

It begins with such promise, with so many of Cain's recognizable brushstrokes in place.  A beautiful widow, forced into taking a job as a cocktail waitress.  The son she is desperate to be reunited with.  The two customers who intrigue her for different reasons - the young man with grandiose dreams, the old man who wants to marry her . . .

Alas, while it's interesting - especially for fans of noir - The Cocktail Waitress doesn't measure up to Mr. Cain's best.  Don't get me wrong - there are moments of sizzle, of danger.  Just have an old copy of Double Indemnity by your side when you're done, that and a slug of bourbon.

#65:  Return of the Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett.  Mysterious Press.  $25.

This collection is an even more notable event - it comprises two stories (After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man) that Dashiell Hammett wrote following the unexpected success of the first Thin Man movie.  That film exceeded expectations at the box office and received four Academy Award nominations - including a nod for Best Picture (It Happened One Night was the winner, and let me tell you, I'm not so sure about that).

MGM asked Mr. Hammett for more stories, and so he penned the two collected here.  They're being billed as novellas - which isn't quite right.  The stories aren't exactly screenplays, though they're close, and they're not exactly novellas - they're more a hybrid.

One thing is for sure - Mr. Hammett's ear for dialogue is on spectacular display. 

His stories - like Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's - are a little more sinister in words than what got translated to film.  But Nick and Nora Charles (what?  He's Greek?  And named Nick?) scintillated on screen and on the page, and the duo is in fine form here (and yes, I do in fact have a crush on Myrna Loy.  Sue me.  All I have to do is close my eyes and hear her asking Nicky for another drink and I swoon.  Did I say sue me?)

So put away the bourbon and pour yourself a dry martini - and please remember to shake it in Waltz time.  Nick Charles would approve.

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