“We had more than any two people in the world.  And then we fell down.”

Central Library Brown Baggers met October 20th to discuss The Postman Always Rings Twice by James Cain. Set in California during the Great Depression, it is the story of Frank, a wanderer, and his passionate affair with Cora, the wife of Nick (a Greek owner of a diner). In order to start a new life together, Frank and Cora plot to murder the Greek. After their first attempt fails, the plot thickens when they crash a car to successfully kill Nick, but the law and insurance companies get involved. In a final twist (spoiler alert), after getting off for killing the Greek, Frank wrecks a car again and accidently kills Cora. Frank is writing the story from death row, with 3 possible outcomes. Since the story is published, we know that he gave it to Father McConnell to publish upon his execution.

Our readers had fun discussing this crime novel, a change in genre from our usual picks. Just 116 pages long and written in the first person, the writing was expressive and visual and at times humorous. Some said it felt like reading a script. (There were in fact seven film versions of the title, including in 1946 and 1981).

Since there is no “postman” in the plot, the group had several interpretations of the meaning of the title. According to historical custom, if the postman rang or knocked twice, he was bringing bad news. In this case, Frank got away with the murder of Nick, but in accidentally killing Cora, he was brought to justice and sentenced to die. The postman stood in for delayed justice.

We also had fun discussing the animalistic relationship between Frank and Cora. Why was their relationship so violent and overtly sexual, even masochistic? Was it really love and would it have lasted? They represented to each other an escape from the life they had. Were they cut from the same cloth or opposites? One reader said “Cora knows what she wants and would do anything to get it.”

Captivating, well-written and entertaining, we now know why this novel is considered one of the most outstanding crime novels of the 20th century.

Other authors and titles mentioned:

Mildred Pierce by Cain

Double Indemnity by Cain (film)

Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov

Raymond Chandler

Dashell Hammett

Mickey Spillane

Upcoming titles:

  • The Paris Library by Janet Charles: November 17, 2022
  • No book, selection meeting: December 15, 2022

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