Review: The Cocktail Waitress
The Cocktail Waitress is the final “lost” novel of James M. Cain(Double Indemnity) published by Titan Books Hardcase Crime imprint. It is a quick solid read full of vice and vigor.
Cain never finished The Cocktail Waitress. Years later it was compiled from different drafts and compiled notes into the finished tome. You’d never guess it by reading the book though – it feels just as complete as if Cain were alive today. That is except that the book is rooted in the time period it was written.
The waitress in question and the protagonist of the book is the down on her luck widow Joan Medford. The book begins at her husbands funeral, though Joan doesn’t consider it a sad occasion. Her husband was abusive, and although he’s out of the picture his death is just the beginning of Joans problems. With her husband gone she has no income, her power is off and worst of all her son, Tad, has been taken custody of by her sister in law. The same sister in law who calls the police to falsely accuse Joan of murdering her late husband so that she will be able to keep Tad. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if it weren’t for the rookie cop who is investigating the murder who wants to find a case where there isn’t.
Desperate for work she finds a job as a waitress at a local bar. While there she makes friends and thanks to her striking looks – her legs are described more than a dozen times – a few admirers. There is the good looking Tom, or the rich but old Mr. White, both trying to woo her. Joan has to decide what is important to her, or if she can’t do that how she can play both sides.
Joan is a strong and selfish character who will do whatever she can to get her son back, and have a good life.
It’s a good setup and rarely is there a dull moment in the book. The characters are pretty one note, besides Joan. That said Joan herself is a conflicted and interesting character.
I’m not a big crime reader but from what I know characters with a very specific almost mechanical purpose are par for the course in the genre. The plot is interesting but in my opinion it leaves too many of it’s twists and turns for the very end, but it is quite an end.
The prose was occasionally odd sounding but it never got in the way of enjoyment. The book is pretty quick to read, at around 250 pages.
The afterword is also a good read. It describes the process of putting together the novel from its pieces as well as some of the things that a contemporary reader might miss(trust me it puts the last chapter into a whole different perspective.)
Speaking as someone who does not have a lot of experience reading crime I can not compare The Cocktail Waitress to other books in the genre, but I can tell you that it was an entertaining read. It was enjoyable, solid, and surprising in moments. However it was not a spell binder – none of the characters really connected to me and I was never compelled to keep reading just one more chapter.
It is a good read; if you’re a fan of the crime genre I would say pick this up just as a piece of history if nothing else and you’ll have a fun time reading it as well.
If you are not a fan of the genre but the description intrigues you, I’d say give it a shot and see if it grabs you.