“Double Indemnity” by James M Cain, first published in 1935, is a classic noir tale of a seductive ”femme fatal” and the man who falls for her. It was made into a 1944 film directed by Billy Wilder starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, but it did not win.
The story unfolds in a first person narrative by Walter Neff, an insurance salesman desperate to sell policies. When he encounters the attractive and seductive Phyllis, they conspire to kill her husband and collect the insurance company’s double indemnity death benefit by having the husband killed by a train. The plot is agonizingly suspenseful as plans unfold and obstacles block the path to the money.
“Double Indemnity” is full of obsession, duplicity, and guilt, and readers witness the deception, the blame, and the tragedy. The book is short, a novella really, and so compelling that a reader can finish in one setting.
“Double Indemnity” is included on the list of the top eight books with perfect literary murders in Peter Swanson’s recent book “Eight Perfect Murders.” (Eight Perfect Murders review) “Double Indemnity” is a perfect choice for that list. Cain’s characters are classic and yet unique. The narrative has a compelling and timeless cadence. The pace is deliberate, and events progress in a logical, yet sometimes unexpected order. Well, up until the unusual ending.