There’s a bit of a funny lineage with this one. Double Indemnity was originally published as a serial in Liberty magazine back in 1936. In 1943 it was featured alongside two other novellas in a collection titled Three of a Kind. That same year, the story was first made available as a standalone novel, both in the Murder Mystery Monthly series (released by Avon Books), as well as a “pure” Avon paperback, the latter of which has one of the best covers I’ve laid my eyes on. I myself ended up with the pictured 1947 Avon edition, and it lists copyrights for 1936, 1938, 1940, 1943, 1943 (yes, twice, not a typo) and 1947. I’m curious what the 1938 and 1940 dates pertain to, but honestly, I never usually give this stuff that much thought… I swear!
The 1943 Avon paperback may have the best cover, but the 1947 edition isn’t bad itself. It sits at 129 pages, which places it in novella territory, although at a glance the physical book doesn’t look much skinnier than 180 page brethren from the same period. It’s a blazingly fast read, and I challenge anyone to draw this out to more than two sittings. That’s not just because it’s short, but because it runs at such a pace that you’ll struggle to find a satisfying spot to pause.
Walter Mack is an insurance salesman, and while attempting to push a car insurance deal, he finds that his gorgeous client is more interested in surreptitiously purchasing a life insurance policy for her husband. Sly, smitten, and not exactly the most moral of men, Walter uses his knowledge of the insurance industry to hatch a plan ensuring a double payout.
Double Indemnity isn’t a conventional mystery, so I’ll tread carefully, as where the story goes from here is best experienced on your own. It’s always fun to have an inside look at the plotting of a perfect crime and all of the contingencies involved. Then there’s the lump in the throat as the attempt gets carried out, and the realization that plans and reality are two very different things.
It’s a near perfect read throughout, with my one complaint being that my imagination foresaw a wilder ride at the end than I got. I immediately purchased The Butterfly and The Cocktail Waitress (two different books, but yes, that would be a wild title) – not based on any actual recommendations, but they were cheap vintage editions with nice covers. Throw James M Cain into the ever expanding list of authors that I need to find some time to get back to.