Editor Finds Unpublished Cain Manuscript

Lynn Neary speaks with Charles Ardai, founder and editor of Hard Case Crime, a publisher of crime novels. Ardai talks about finding an unpublished manuscript by James M. Cain. Cain was the author of Mildred Pearce, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity. The unpublished manuscript is called The Cocktail Waitress and was written by Cain at the end of his life.

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LYNN NEARY, host: Another voice from the past now. A new novel from a great American writer who's been dead for more than 30 years. The writer is the master of noir, James M. Cain. He gave us the classic books behind the classic films, "Mildred Pierce," "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "Double Indemnity."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DOUBLE INDEMNITY")

BARBARA STANWYCK: (as Phyllis Dietrichson) Mr. Neff, why don't you drop by tomorrow evening around 8:30? He'll be in then.

FRED MACMURRAY: (as Walter Neff) Who?

STANWYCK: (as Phyllis Dietrichson) My husband. You were anxious to talk to him, weren't you?

MACMURRAY: (as Walter Neff) Yeah. I was, but I'm sort of getting over the idea, if you know what I mean.

STANWYCK: (as Phyllis Dietrichson) There's a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff. Forty-five miles an hour.

MACMURRAY: (as Walter Neff) How fast was I going, officer?

STANWYCK: (as Phyllis Dietrichson) I'd say around 90.

MACMURRAY: (as Walter Neff) Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket?

STANWYCK: (as Phyllis Dietrichson) Suppose I let you off with a warning this time?

MACMURRAY: (as Walter Neff) Suppose it doesn't take?

STANWYCK: (as Phyllis Dietrichson) Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.

NEARY: The new novel from James M. Cain called "The Cocktail Waitress" is, of course, not new at all, but was recently unearthed by Charles Ardai, the founder and editor of Hard Case Crime, a publisher of hardboiled fiction, and he joins me now. So good to have you with us.

CHARLES ARDAI: It's great to be here. Thank you.

NEARY: Well, first, we want to know about the story. Who is this cocktail waitress?

ARDAI: There's a young widow, beautiful legs, beautiful face and she recently lost her husband under suspicious circumstances, needs to take a job to make ends meet and she becomes a cocktail waitress, where she meets two men. One is very handsome and has no money and the other is very rich, but unattractive.

And you can guess which one she falls in love with and which one she marries.

NEARY: All the ingredients are there for a great, great crime story, it sounds like.

ARDAI: Absolutely.

NEARY: Now, you've compared finding this novel to discovering a lost manuscript by Hemingway or a score by Gershwin. Why do you think James Cain is comparable to those two great artists?

ARDAI: Well, the progenitors of noir, the great three were Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain. And this book has been out there now for 30 years unpublished and it is the last remnant of this terrific mid-century movement which defined American popular literature.

NEARY: How did you first learn of its existence?

ARDAI: There's another writer who's written books for Hard Case Crime named Max Allan Collins and in addition to being a novelist, he's a student of the history of the genre and he knew that the book existed. He'd never seen it, but he had read papers of Cain's that suggested that he had finished writing a book called "The Cocktail Waitress" in the late '70s, just before he died. And he said, you know, you should try to find it.

Well, that was the beginning of a nine-year odyssey where I called everyone I knew. I hunted and hunted and then, finally, I was in a meeting with my Hollywood agent, who works with me on film and TV deals, and he had mentioned he had inherited the papers of an older agent who had represented authors in Hollywood like Faulkner and Fitzgerald and Cain.

And I jumped on that and I said, do you think there's anything in his papers that might point in the direction of "The Cocktail Waitress?" And a week later, a package arrived in the mail and it had the manuscript of "The Cocktail Waitress" in it. So it was one of those great moments.

NEARY: Yeah. I wanted to ask you, what was it like when you finally had your hands on this manuscript you'd been so interested in finding?

ARDAI: Well, you know, your hands tremble and shake because you don't want to get sweat stains on the paper and so on, but it really was mostly desire to sit down and read it. I'd read every book Cain had ever written and I was just hoping that this would be up there with the good ones and, sure enough, it really is. It's sort of a classic Cain story that takes a little bit of "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and a little bit of "Mildred Pierce" and mixes them up and brews something very new and different.

NEARY: Now, the guy that sent you this package, had he read it himself or...

ARDAI: As far as I know, he hadn't. And, in fact, the agency that represents the Cain estate didn't have a copy until I sent it to them. So as far as I know, I was probably the first one to read it since Cain's death.

NEARY: Well, as we've already mentioned, some really great movies have been made from Cain's novels, so do you think we might see a movie made from this one?

ARDAI: I'd be surprised if we didn't. I don't think there's a Cain novel that hasn't been filmed. No producers in Hollywood have read the thing yet. It's sitting on my desk. In fact, this makes me think of another murder mystery plot. If I got murdered and the manuscript vanishes, you'll know what happened.

NEARY: Charles Ardai is the founder and editor of the publishing company, Hard Case Crime. It was great talking with you.

ARDAI: Thanks. It was a pleasure.

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