James M. Cain is not known for his tough-guy detective fiction. Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe are the property of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Cain is known for tough-guy/tough-gal living in a world that is indifferent to human suffering fiction. What better topic for a probate nerd.
In our last post, we were talking about a mystery writer who is also an avid Cain fan. The writer came across information that Cain left behind an unfinished novel when he died in 1977. A quest was born.
The writer discovered a copy of the manuscript almost by chance. He then discovered scores of boxes of Cain's personal papers at the Library of Congress that included more manuscripts as well as excised scenes and notes for that last novel, "The Cocktail Waitress." After years of tweaking and editing, the writer was able to publish the novel earlier this fall.
The treasure hunt for the manuscript is interesting, but what struck us as odd was that the tale of the novel's provenance barely mentions Cain's estate. When he died, apparently, he left his papers and books to a neighbor. Since that time, the estate has acquired "literary agents," according to CriminalElement.com. But they had no interest in the unfinished, unpublished work -- and their reactions were characterized as tepid at best. If the book was never published, how good could it be?
For a writer whose dialog was all about timing, Cain had bad timing in his life -- or death, actually. Cain died at a time when there was little public interest in his kind of writing. He had no children, and his wife had died 10 years earlier. He left behind a rich oeuvre of novels and films, and he put his neighbor in charge of them. Huh?
We'll finish this up in our next post.
Source: The Millions, "The Man Who Blew the Dust Off James M. Cain's Lost Last Novel," Bill Morris, Oct. 29, 2012
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