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The Cocktail Waitress

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  1,720 ratings  ·  332 reviews
Following her husband's death in a suspicious car accident, beautiful young widow Joan Medford is forced to take a job serving drinks in a cocktail lounge to make ends meet and to have a chance of regaining custody of her young son. At the job she encounters two men who take an interest in her, a handsome young schemer who makes her blood race and a wealthy but unwell ...more
Hardcover, 270 pages
Published September 18th 2012 by Hard Case Crime
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Average rating 3.55  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,720 ratings  ·  332 reviews

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May 22, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
DNF at 48%.

I have never read James M. Cain before despite noir being my favorite genre and the guy being one of the three classics of it. After finishing (DNFing) this book I postponed my further acquaintance with his works indefinitely.

Joan Medford's drunkard husband died in a car accident (kids, don't drink and drive: you might spill your drink).
Don't drink
She now has one child to support and no money. So - oh horror of horrors - she had to find a job. I admit that at the time of the book was written a
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
If this book actually were a cocktail youd probably find it was pretty smooth going down, but think that its not all that strong while drinking. Then youd be surprised by the twist you found at the bottom of the glass, and when you tried to stand up youd fall over and realize that you were completely shitfaced after all.

Joan Medford is burying her husband, but since he was an abusive drunk she isnt exactly upset that he crashed and burned in a drunk driving accident. However, hes left her stone
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Jan 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017

The long lost final novel of James M Cain, written when the author was 83 years old, is well deserving of the atribute 'hidden gem', especially to fans of the pulp author already familiar with his style: a first person narration that throws the reader into the middle of a maelstrom of human emotion, with a strong sense of impending doom, courtesy of the opening scene at a funeral and of the confessional type of first person narration from the widow - Joan Medford.

My review borrows heavily
Joe Valdez
Dec 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-crime
The Cocktail Waitress is the final novel of James M. Cain. Begun in 1975 when the 83-year-old crime fiction godfather had relocated from Los Angeles to Hyattsville, MD, Cain passed away two years later and his manuscript remained lost. Efforts by editor Charles Ardai to recover it resulted in the discovery of not only a complete manuscript but several, though undated. Unlike a lot of posthumously published fiction, there was a finished product here. How finished remains open to debate in what ...more
James Thane
James M. Cain is best known for his three classic novels: Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce. The Cocktail Waitress is his last book and was unpublished at the time of his death. Cain was still working on the book, although he had completed several drafts of it, and there is no way of knowing at this point whether he was happy with the work he had done and whether he thought it was ready for publication. The fact that he had not yet submitted it by the time he ...more
Meh. No doubt I started with the wrong Cain novel for my first read.

For a thoughtful, detailed review, read this one from my GR friend Algernon:

David Schaafsma
And then at last I began to realize how terrible a thing it was, the dream that you make come true.

James M. Cain is generally considered one of the trinity of classic American noir crime novelists, including Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. His best known and most celebrated novels are The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce, all of which were terrific, and were made into successful films, as well. I wouldnt ordinarily go out of my way to read a book that the
Aug 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Why, oh why, don't I read these kinds of books more often?

James Cain is a master of the crime noir novel. Not a word is wasted as he suspensfully sets the scene -- smoky, dark bar; love triangle; a voluptuous young cocktail waitress who already has one dead husband and needs to find a way to get a lot of money -- quickly. The story is told in the first person from her point of view, which works so well -- as a reader can we trust her?

This was Cain's last book and he died before it was finished.
Jan 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2017
I finished this book and thought, "Well, that was nice." I couldn't figure out why Stephen King said the book will "...shock you with an ending you will never forget." As far as I was concerned, things were wrapped up quite nicely and it was a 3 to 4 star book.

But then I googled thalidomide.

It was then I realized that I had just read a horror novel. And it is a horror novel that is so wicked it sent chills down my spine.

Looking back, I see now that the murderer in this story is by far the
Nancy Oakes
I really, really, really wanted to like this book when I first opened it, but the truth of the matter is that I did not. Ostensibly the story of a woman's anguish about getting her child back from relatives in whose care the boy has been left, and how she goes about doing so, what we have here is a sort of sleaze version of the Perils of Pauline, as the narrator gets stuck in bad situation after bit situation, none of it, of course, her fault.

The novel is set up as a confession, of sorts, being
Paul Nelson
The Cocktail Waitress was James M Cain's last work of fiction before his death in 1977, a hard case crime story that was written and lost in the final years of his life. The novel was eventually recovered nine years later by the editor of the hard case crime series, Charles Ardai. He assembled a publishable version from Cain's transcript and many notes with vital scenes played out many times.
The story is told in first person with the narrator being the young, stunningly beautiful Joan Medford,
There is something about Cain's writing
which makes you not want to put it down until you finish it. It is, of course, another tale of greed,love, betrayal, despair. It continues many of the same themes as Postman and Double Indemnity. It is interestingly narrated through a woman's point of view and Cain pulls that off very successfully. She is a femme fatale or is she? As Editor Ardai notes in an afterword, there is a tension in the book because you have to decide if the narrator is reporting
Jun 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
'The Cocktail Waitress' reaffirms James M Cain as a true master of noir. An intelligent and emotionally satisfying portrayal of a middle class beauty living below the poverty line who only wants the best for her son. A victim of domestic abuse and punished for her curvaceous body and move star looks, Joan Medford faces adversity in every mirror. Public perception immediately ridicules and downgrades her intellect and ambition, yet through a strong reserve and perhaps a muddled sense of justice, ...more
Mar 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fun noir novel, with all the ingredients: leggy, none-too-good dame, a 'wallet' (monied older man), a handsome stud. Could have been a formula until the very end. Only those familiar with the effects of the medication mentioned will get it, and I wonder if younger readers will understand. No more, spoilers.
Feb 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Posthumously published novel, assembled by an editor from various drafts Cain wrote before his death. Not bad, especially for the way it was put together, but not his best.

The story is told by Joan, who has to take a job as a cocktail waitress after the death of her husband, to support herself and her young son. We are shown her struggle to become financially stable, in order to keep custody of her child. The way she achieves this isn't always above board. She gets into some situations that put
Aug 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Joan Medford is a young beautiful woman in an unhealthy marriage, but when her husband dies in a suspicious car accident, does that mean her life will improve? No, she now has to take a job as a cocktail waitress to make ends meet and somehow make enough money to finally be able to take her son back from her mother in law. On the job, two men take a special interest in her, one really gets Joans blood racing and the other is a very wealthy older man who tips very generously if she gives him her ...more
robin friedman
Dec 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
James Cain's Last Novel

James M. Cain (1892 -- 1977) is best-known for his early novels including "The Postman Always Rings Twice", "Double Indemnity" and "Mildred Pierce" and for the many movies based on his writing. After these successes, written while working as a Hollywood screenwriter, Cain had mixed success and for a time was largely forgotten. He returned to his home in Hyattsville, Maryland (a suburb of Washington, D.C.) in 1948 and continued to write. Written just before his death,
Mark Drew
This book is not as advertised. It is from Hard Case so one would assume a degree of noir, and it has some buried deep in it's pedigree. However in it's reassembled final persona it would appear to be pages of pure Stella Dallas except this kid is a boy named Tad - but again this is only slightly correct. This is all going to a very different place; way though and beyond the world of Helen Trent and on to a dark plane of dread. What we have here, buried under yards of soap opera text is a true ...more
Samantha Glasser
Joan Medford is a widow; her husband died on a drunken binge and crashed a borrowed car. Mrs. Medford is being watched by the suspicious eye of the law, but a friendly officer takes one look at her womanly body and recommends she wait tables at a restaurant and bar called The Garden. She gets the job and makes good immediately, which is good since she has a young son to care for.

But men always get in the way. A young, handsome man name Tom with grabby hands sets his sights on Joan, and in spite
Jun 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc, noir
If you have read many of his novels you will know of his characters, his femme fatales and women stuck in situations where their other half could do with a killing off for a hefty sum of insurance.
His storytelling is about ordinary people mostly men and women, where the women go to extraordinary lengths to win and get what they want, they wish to get that much more out of the plan of things, manipulation of love and deceit their modus operandi.
He writes with a dynamic plot and narrative drive
Oct 17, 2012 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Don Gorman
Oct 30, 2012 rated it liked it
A newly discovered "lost" novel by classic mystery writer James Cain, this book is dated but still has some sparkle. A great lead character, money and sex and a few subplots as well keep us moving at a good pace. A fairly frantic last 50 pages make up for some other weaknesses in the story. If you are a fan or Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett or some of Cain's other peers you will really enjoy this book. Joan Medford is great.
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Stylish dialogues and an attractive woman with history
James.M.Cain is a genius!
I'm JAPANESE,and don't fully understand subtle nuances but this is worth rereading.
Jan 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery, noir, crime
Often referred to as the lost Cain novel, The Cocktail Waitress is the noir extraordinaire James M. Cains final published work. It takes things from the female side of the mystery, as a woman whose husband has died under mysterious circumstances narrates and tells us her tale. She seems to come across as a victim from her narrative, but is she really telling us all?

As the plot moves forward after her late husbands funeral, we learn that Joan is divided between two men, the one she wants, and
Deborah Sheldon
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Scandalous stuff indeed, with some killer plot-twists. Unusually for crime-noir, the story is told from the P.O.V. of the femme fatale. ('The Cocktail Waitress' was published posthumously after years of determined sleuthing by Charles Ardai, founder of Hard Case Crime, to find the lost manuscript. Thank you, Charles, from the bottom of my heart!)
Carla Remy
May 03, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: pulp-and-romance
Cain is apparently known for being lurid. And this is pretty ridiculous. At first I thought I loved it. It has a lot in common with his Mildred Pierce, which I enjoyed. But then I saw it was a sex soap opera on a Jacqueline Susann level. With dull characters. Lurid.
Aug 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
It is sort of ironic that my first experience with James M Cain is the book he wrote last-The Cocktail Waitress is a "lost" novel that was published posthumously decades after completion. However that does not mean it was a bad book-often there is a reason a novel remains hidden away in a desk drawer until a creator is no longer with us, but that is not true here. Cain wrote Mildred Pierce, Double Indemnity, and The Postman Always Rings Twice-all famous works I have not read so I have no point ...more
Oct 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: noir
I reserve five stars for only the very best of the best. The plot was engaging and the end so perfectly twisted.

I loved this book for two reasons. First, I found the plot, writing style and narrative pacing to be lovely. It doesn't have the grit and edge that Postman has -- it is more measured and nuanced. I love the ease with which it unfolds and draws you in -- not too rushed or forced. It meanders up and down through the minor crescendos, and brings you to the very end wondering what is going
Sep 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: James M. Cain fans
Joan Medford is a twenty-two-year-old cocktail waitress whose first husband Ron, a brute and drunk, dies in a fatal auto crash. She marries a second husband Earl who is loaded and lots older than she is. The goal she has to get back her little son Tad currently under the care of her sister-in-law Ethel who has designs to keep Tad as her own. I found myself wondering throughout reading the story whether Joan is actually an unreliable narrator since it's her speaking in the first-person. Some of ...more
Benjamin Thomas
James M. Cain is often mentioned, along with Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler, as one of the Big Three of the original hard boiled crime genre from the 30s, 40s and 50s. His most famous works were undoubtedly The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce, and Double Indemnity, all of which were published in the first half of his career. And now, 35 years after his death, we are treated to a lost book, written in his final years...that 'one last book that he had in him' as it were. ...more
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James Mallahan Cain (July 1, 1892October 27, 1977) was an American journalist and novelist. Although Cain himself vehemently opposed labeling, he is usually associated with the hard-boiled 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

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