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3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  404 ratings  ·  59 reviews
John Sharp had just flopped in Rigoletto, down in Mexico, when he first saw Juana. Somehow, the beautiful Mexican-Indian prostitute offered him a way back, a chance to rebuild his career in New York and Hollywood. But then, like the snake in the garden, Winston Hawes, the prodigiously accomplished conductor, came back in to Sharp's life and an eternal, and lethal, triangle ...more
Paperback, 183 pages
Published April 12th 1978 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1937)
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Not my favorite novel by Cain. His writing is good, and some scenes really stand out : the introduction of the main characters in a Mexican Cantina, taking shelter in a small church during a storm, an opera concert on a big stadium in Los Angeles, a party in a New York apartment. But I thought the story was too slow, spending too much time building up steam towards a future crash that you feel is coming, but you're not sure from what direction it will hit. I believe it was a deliberate set
Cathy DuPont
Damn it all. I wish I liked this book as much as my Goodreads friends Tfitoby and Jackson.

I wearied page after page after page of opera terms, singing terms, opera names, and page after page about music. Get my drift?

Perhaps if I were more musically inclined, it would have been a better read for me.

And the last quarter of the book which was great, did not make up for the dreariness and torture reading the first three-quarters of the book.

Yes, I'm glad I read it because I love Cain's writing.
James M. Cain whose earliest ambition was to a professional singer takes full advantage of his passion for and knowledge of the art of singing to wind a story of passion, terrible justice, absurd hubris, and star-crossed love across several countries. His protagonist/surrogate is an opera singer trained in France and Italy, his inadvertent femme fatale a Mexican prostitute, together they flee a violent encounter in Mexico to America where his success brings skeletons out of closets and sets them ...more
One of the craziest books I've ever read. So crazy it deserves a spoilery synopsis. Spoilers to follow:

Johnny is a down and out American singer in Mexico. Once he was a success in Europe, but he lost his voice and now he's broke. Also he's really bigoted. It's good to be prepared for that instead of hit in the face with his racist description of his love interest, Juana, on the very first page. Juana's a prostitute he steals from a bullfighter, but when he gets to her place and sings to her a bi
Markus Innocenti
To use the cliche - omg. Despite my lifelong passion for crime mystery/american noir, James M. Cain never made it onto my 'must-read' list the way Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, Jim Thompson and Charles Ray Willeford have.

I'd seen some of the 18 films made from his novels - 'Mildred Pierce', 'Double Indemnity', 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' (and Visconti's version 'Ossessione'). Seen the movies, don't need to read the books - or so I thought. How wrong can you be.

'Serenade' turns out to
Serenade: 2 and 1/2 stars. This one was pretty wacky. I'd never heard of a hard-boiled novel starring an opera singer before. Lots of talk about singing, opera and composers, as well as Mexican prostitues and sex. I give a half star for the author's sheer audacity in writing it.
I am awarding this a rare 5-star rating.

This is my favorite Cain novel read to date. Absolutely brilliant. Oddly enough, this is the only Cain novel where I cared for the characters. I wanted the guy to get the girl, keep the girl, and live happily ever after. The subtleties given the characters were nuanced and real. And the ending is to die for.

I highly recommend this book. I can't wait to read it again.
D.R. Haney
A former roommate left behind an antique, water-damaged collection of three of Cain's novels. I recently stumbled on it, and having seen movie versions of two of the three novels, I opted to read "Serenade," the movie version of which (starring Mario Lanza) I haven't seen. (The movie apparently bears little relation to the novel.) I've now perused a few, in my view, PC takes on "Serenade," but I can't agree with them. This is pulp, and the attitudes in the book, however offensive, not only strik ...more
Mar 12, 2008 Andy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: noir, James M. Cain
The only James M. Cain classic that couldn't be filmed, "Serenade" in short is about a washed-up opera singer in Tijuana who hooks up with a fiery Aztec prostitute who resurrects his singing talent (yeah, right) and they both trek back to Carnegie Hall where the singer's former concertmaster/gay lover stalks him, only to get an Aztec warrior's sword through the heart from the whore.
Strong stuff? Cain wrote it in 1937, which means he's crazier and cooler than all of us. One of the greatest books
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
The following review contains spoilers . . . if you do not want to know the general contours of Serenade's plot, read no further . . . Opera singer John Howard Sharp is a self-loathing homosexual who wants to believe he is like any other man. At one point he protests that all men are 5% gay but that most men are fortunate enough not to meet that special someone who triggers that 5%. Unfortunately for John, he has met that special someone, and it turns out that homosexual activity has the little- ...more
Andrei Alupului
On the one hand I really liked this book and on the other I didn't. It's strange, because it shifts gears in rather startling ways at least a couple times, so you can divide it up into a few semi-discrete stories, something that serves to make it more interesting and surprising but that also serves to weaken it, because some of them are better than others. The fact that some of the major plot twists are rooted in bigoted acts that aren't meant to be viewed in a negative light also makes me wary ...more
Gareth Evans
This is the fourth of Cain's books I have read recently and this a real oddity. Double Indemnity and the Postman Always Rings Twice have plots as tight as bow strings and Mildred Pierce is longer, more discursive, but with a firm narrative arc. Serenade is rather different, the plot never really hangs together. Having an opera singer for a central character is certainly novel and the revelations (which I won't reveal here as it spoils the plot somewhat) are certainly groundbreaking for the time. ...more
Ismael Galvan
An awful book that is well written is still an awful book. I picked up Serenade after being impressed by The Post Man Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce. Noir of the '30s and '40s, unfortunately, conveyed racism as acceptable and literature worthy. Sometimes it achieves a gritty and edgy flavor, but Serenade quickly becomes an annoying rant about everything Mexican. I do admit some of Cain's factoids about Mexicans made me laugh: "Luckily, we all know Mexicans can hardly re ...more
The story starts in Mexico, with stops in Los Angeles then on to New York....and unfortunately back to Mexico. A former popular opera singer, finds two things. His voice again and the wrong woman. Well, in this tale she might have worked out, but she always knew when he lied to her. Knew where he had been - what he had been up to. Then a nice twist when our singer runs into his former mentor/coach....or did he just "happen" to run into the singer? And with great noir like Mr. Cain wrote, the ten ...more
William Thomas
i picked up this book at a thrift store, one of the original pressings of it and thought that it was a find. i absolutely loved the grit of double indemnity and the postman always rings twice. i thought that this would be the same, but instead i found a book rife with racial epithets and racial slants and a ridiculous amount of loathing, both of the world and himself. it seemed like a reflection of the author and not of the character in the book. i was sorely disappointed in this book becaus ei ...more
Procyon Lotor
Ta-dh! Uomo irrisolto, catafottutosi nel Messico delle ultime spiagge, rivelatosi poi cantante lirico in disgrazia nonch fiero mozartiano, s'appiovra a giovane donna di bellezza non preminente ma d'arcaico fascino, rivelatasi poi regular puta da tres pesos, accettando da lei una proposta che non si pu rifiutare. Si mettono nei guai e vengono salvati con la fuga verso la tentacolare Hollywood e la colta New York, da un capitano di marina, acceso beethoveniano. Rivelatosi poi capitano di marina e ...more
Seth Kanor
This might well be the most underrated book in 20th Century American Literature. Serenade is a pyrotechnic and operatic page turner that grabs you by the throat and doesn't let you go until the last sentence. And even then, it doesn't let you go: the way-ahead-of-its-time carnal sexuality shocking you long after you've put it back on the shelf..or have forced it on some unsuspecting friends.
Mark Hepler
I like the craziness that the best "noir" writers--for lack of a better pigeonhole--inject into their works. It abounds here. You can tell that no one, his own superego included, is standing over him with a political-correctness grease pencil, ready to redact his take on ethnicities and cultures.

He stays true to his characters.
Phillip Frey
Apr 11, 2013 Phillip Frey rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: James M. Cain fans
This is not the usual James M. Cain passion/murder. In Serenade there is some passion, and there is a murder, both in a lighter vein. Decades ago there was film made of the book, starring Mario Lanza. The film did not do the book justice; it was pretty awful. I gave the book 4 stars because of Cain's style, which I love.
Nick Duretta
It has Cain's usual hard-boiled characters and nihilistic plot, which are always fun, but the bizarre plot turns (a gay subplot in the third act?) and stock characters (the tragic femme fatale Juana is a one-dimensional Mexican cliche) get weary. Only for the dedicated.
I had given a poor rating to a James Cain book, and I thought I would never hear the end of it. So, I went out and bought 3 of his earliest. I liked this book. He does have a style of writing that pulls you in to the scene and that makes you feel the characters. The story was a little too long for me considering the short plot. An opera singer, down in his career, sees a Mexican indigenous woman and cannot get her out of his mind. She offered him hope, and he takes it after shuffles with local m ...more
Tamara Vallejos
For the first third of this, I thought, "This isn't bad, but it is so different from the other Cain books I've read." For the middle third, I thought, "I don't know if I even am enjoying this anymore." But for the final third, I thought, "Whoa. This just for awesome." Most of the book drags along but with about sixty pages left, this crazy love triangle comes into play and it's so intense and dramatic and exciting. I don't want to give anything away, but there is plenty of fluid sexuality and ev ...more
fascinating -- if The Sun Also Rises has a genre, this joins in the pantheon of questionable sexual identity of a seemingly tough macho man in love with an impossible dream of a woman in a foreign country. Is that too specific to be a genre?
Pushes toward five stars, but not recently-read enough for full review. Stands out from even the above-average run of pulp & noir as a unique conception, a weird remix of the standard elements, very intriguing.
Shehanne Moore
I first read this book years ago, so coming back for a second reading I wondered if I'd like it as much. Being a huge fan of Cain's prose and his stories, I probably liked it even more.
Like anything really great, I just wanted more
wow. best cain book I've read -- better than postman rings twice AND double indemnity
When Todd Haynes discussed the HBO movie Mildred Pierce at the Northwest Film School, he said that he and Jonathan Raymond had looked at Serenade, but it was too crazy. It is crazy. I laughed out loud at how crazy it was. Imagine characters in a noir novel getting caught up in lengthy arguments about the merits of symphonic versus operatic composition! Casting a down and out opera singer stuck in Mexico as a protagonist is crazy, too. I wouldn't call this good writing, but I had a lot of fun rea ...more
Phillip Thompson
This one completed a four-novel collection of Cain's best noir of the '30 and '40s. And it was definitely not your normal noir novel. And of the four, it was my least favorite, but only because of the pace of the book -- there's a great deal of build-up to a sudden (even abrupt) ending. Johnny, is down and out opera singer, one of the best in the world until he "lost his voice." His semi-self-exile lands him in Mexico, where he falls in love with a prostitute, with whom he returns to United Stat ...more
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James Mallahan Cain was an American journalist and novelist. Although Cain himself vehemently opposed labelling, he is usually associated with the hardboiled school of American crime fiction and seen as one of the creators of the 'roman noir'.

He was born into an Irish Catholic family in Annapolis, Maryland, the son of a prominent educator and an opera singer. He inherited his love for music from h
More about James M. Cain...
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“I understood it now, understood a lot of things I had never understood before. And mostly I understood what a woman could mean to a man. Before, she had been a pair of eyes, and a shape, something to get excited about. Now she seemed something to lean on, and draw something from, that nothing else could give me. I thought of books I had read, about worship of the Earth, and how she was always called Mother, and none of it made much sense, but those big round breasts did, when I put my head on them, and they began to tremble, and I began to tremble.” 0 likes
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