Star rating 7/10
Written in 1937, and very much in the style of Raymond Chandler American crime noir, James M. Cain’s ‘Serenade’ has just been reissued. Some of Cain’s work has been turned into successful Hollywood films such as ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’, and ‘Double Indemnity’, as well as the slightly disappointing recent Sky Atlantic Kate Winslet showcase ‘Mildred Pierce’.
Cain was an interesting character, who combined his work as both an author and a journalist with his love of music, which he inherited from his opera singing mother. In ‘Serenade’ he makes the central character, John Sharpe, and equally interesting and complex man, with the same love of opera that he himself possessed. Sharp finds himself in tightened straits in Mexico, who falls in love with a prostitute and runs away with her in search of something better.
The writing is taut and full of tension; giving that familiar dark pervasion that epitomises this genre. But there are a few curve balls thrown in there too, some of them rather shocking. At the start of their adventure, Sharp and Juana find themselves in a church sheltering from a tempestuous storm. He makes his move on her as she is crouching in prayer at the altar, and afterwards tells the reader that ‘Yes, it was rape, but only technical brother, only technical’. Not exactly an attitude to endear Cain to his modern readers perhaps.
The two eventually set up home together in New York, and Sharp becomes a celebrated star both there and in Hollywood, but all their hopes of happy ever after are dashed, as the story reaches a climax from out of left field. The writing is good, the atmosphere created is perfect, but the story line feels a little too forced and over dramatic to put it up there in the same category as Chandler.