|Up to no good: Barbara Stanwyck as the Dame and
Fred MacMurray as the Detective in Double Indemnity.
Cain, of course was the god of the noir novel, whose work was immortalized in the classic films Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce, among others. He died in 1977 in Maryland, but had lived in Hollywood throughout the 1930s and 40s when was hired away from the New York papers to write for films.
Literati reached out to Charles Ardai, the editor of Hard Case Crime, to get the scoop. Here it is.
Where was the manuscript discovered?
I hunted for it for years and finally found it, with the help of my film and TV agent, in the files of an old-time Hollywood agent, H.N. Swanson, who had represented authors like Faulkner and Fitzgerald and Chandler and Cain when they worked in the film business.
How was it authenticated?
Swanson handled Cain’s work, so he had extensive files on Cain, and there’s enough of a trail to make me confident that the manuscript is the real thing. It’s also got edits all over it in Cain’s handwriting, and the plot matches the brief description of it Cain gives in his biography.
When did Cain write it? Before or after titles that are in print?
After. It was the last crime novel he ever wrote.
How does it compare stylistically with his other work ?
It’s definitely Cain – no one else ever wrote quite like him. You’ve got the urgent, real-time first-person narration. You’ve got the young woman who’s willing to do anything – anything – to provide for her child. You’ve got the sense of economic desperation, the gap between those who have wealth and those who crave it. There are themes he developed in Mildred Pierce and ones from The Postman Always Rings Twice. But it’s not just a rehash of his earlier work, it’s a terrific new story and I’d defy anyone who picks it up to put it down unfinished.
How is the editing process affected when you don't have the writer to work with?
That’s something, sadly, that I’ve had a lot of experience with. I worked closely with Donald Westlake on a number of books, but when the time came to work on Memory and the forthcoming The Comedy is Finished, he wasn’t with us any longer, so I had to draw on my knowledge of his tastes and preferences and how he felt about certain types of edits. It’s harder when I’m working on a book by an author I didn’t know personally, but I’ve done that, too, editing the last unpublished books of David Dodge, who wrote To Catch a Thief, and Lester Dent, creator of Doc Savage. In those cases, you read everything you can by the author and develop a sense of how he structured stories, how he used language, and you do your damnedest to be a good caretaker of his work. In the case of Cain, I’m probably one of the few people alive today who’s actually read every book the man ever wrote – I fell in love with his work at age 18 and tracked them all down, even the most obscure ones. So I’m well steeped in Cain’s work and can bring that to the editing process.
What is projected publication date?
We don’t have a month or day set yet, but it’ll be Fall 2012.
Who will do the cover painting?
Also not set in stone yet, but it looks like it will be Michael Koelsch, who did the fabulous paintings for Donald Westlake’s Somebody Owes Me Money and Robert Silverberg’s forthcoming Blood on the Mink. And we may even have a celebrity model posing for the cover painting – but we can’t say more about that yet…