Cocktail Waitress, Hardback Book
4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Following her husband's death in an accident, beautiful young widow Joan Medford is forced to take a job serving drinks in a cocktail lounge to make ends meet.

At the job she encounters two men who take an interest in her, a handsome young schemer and a wealthy but unwell older man who rewards her for her attentions with a $50,000 tip and an unconventional offer of marriage...


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Titan Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Crime & mystery
  • ISBN: 9781781160329

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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

James M. Cain is one of the gods of pulp mysteries, standing alongside Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. His The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity are classics. So, when a never-before published manuscript (hinted at during late in life interviews and biographies) surfaces, it's a big thing. And I guess, for that reason alone, The Cocktail Waitress is worth the read.However (and I may be the only one who says this), if you're looking for a pulp mystery on the level of Cain's classics, this book isn't it. Actually, Michael Connelly, in his NY Times Book Review, I think says the same thing.Joan Medford kicks her drunk husband out of the house one night and he crashes a borrowed car on a culvert, leaving her a penniless widow, hated by her sister-in-law and unable to look after her three year old son, Tad. The police are suspicious, thinking she might have helped the process. Mentioning to one of the investigating police officers that she desperately needs a job, he suggests the local bar/restaurant, The Garden of Roses. On his recommendation she gets the job as a cocktail waitress and she meets the old, but well-to-do, Earl K. White III, who immediately falls in love with her. She also meets, the young and handsome Tom, with whom there's a tremendous physical attraction.What does Joan do? White may be the answer to her financial worries and the means to get Tad back from her sister-in-law (who has been caring for him since Joan doesn't have the means). But Tom, certainly, will meet her physical needs.Older man-->younger woman--->younger man is a typical James M. Cain plot, done much better in The Postman Always Rings Twice. I'm not saying there aren't some great passages and surprises along the way, including the ending (which, while, in my opinion sort of follows, is, again in my opinion, uncalled for). But...I've been inundating myself in mystery stories from The Black Mask and I'll be honest. There are better stories than The Cocktail Waitress, but again, any pulp/James M. Cain fan will be compelled to read The Cocktail Waitress. It won't be the death of you, but it certainly won't keep you riveted.

Review by

James M. Cain’s final novel was rediscovered and constructed by Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai from multiple manuscripts and found notes and is published as the 109th volume from the marvellous Hard Case Crime imprint. The story is set in the early 1960s and opens with the beautiful widow Joan Medford burying her husband who was killed in a drunken car crash. The police are suspicious of the death but can find no evidence of wrong doing. Joan is left broke with a young son to raise and is forced to take a job as a cocktail waitress. Through her new job Joan meets two men at the bar: the young and handsome, but broke entrepreneur, Tom Barclay and the older, sickly and very rich Earl K. White III. Both men begin different forms of relationships with Joan, with deadly repercussions for both. There are a range of hugely interesting elements in "The Cocktail Waitress" including the double-meaning of the title of the book – you have to read to virtually the last page to discover that these three words don't actually mean what you think they mean. Cain structures the book as a taped statement narrated by Joan and is therefore very much the events seem from her point of view. This opens the possibility of her statement being self-justification on her part and not actually a truthful narration of events. The book is unusual therefore as giving voice to the femme fatale of the piece and allowing her to put her own spin on things. Is the story presented here the "truth" or Joan's distorted version of it? Cain never lets us in on it, but the same story written from the perspectives of Tom, Earl or the police would be hugely interesting. Cain's writing is elegant and stately, moving the plot forward at all times, but also building layer upon layer of character detail. The story doesn't play out in the normal rapid fire hard-boiled style but instead meanders slightly on occasions. There are a few elements of the plot that are just a touch too contrived for comfort, but this may be as a result of Joan's self-justifying narrative. The book ends with a devastating gut punch of a twist which led the New York Times to state: "...Cain saves his best twist for the very last page of his very last book". That Cain, at the end of a long career was able to conjure up such a painful, gut-wrenching twist is testament to both his boldness and his power as a writer. It is also a brilliant summation of a career that through his work always understood that there will be consequences; there will always be consequences. With "The Cocktail Waitress" Cain has the confidence to take us all the way to the very final lines of the book to outline exactly how devastating these consequences will be for Joan Medford. The book also contains a hugely interesting afterword by Charles Ardai that makes the case for Charles M. Cain's lofty position amongst the greats of noir fiction. It also outlines the process for tracking down the "The Cocktail Waitress", which was long thought to be a lost book and even more interestingly the process for putting the story together from Cain's many different manuscripts, revisions, alterations and notes. This afterword is a decent detective story in its own right.

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