James Mallahan Cain (July 1, 1892 – October 27, 1977) was an American journalist and novelist. Although Cain himself vehemently opposed labelling, he is usually associated with the hardboiled school of American crime fiction and seen as one of the creators of the roman noir.
Cain was born into an Irish Catholic
family in Annapolis, Maryland
. The son of a prominent teacher
and an opera
singer, he had inherited his love for music from his mother, but his high hopes of starting a career as a singer himself were thwarted when she told him that his voice was not good enough. After graduating from Washington College
in 1910, Cain was drafted into the United States Army
and spent the final year of World War I
writing for an Army magazine. Back in the States, he continued working as a journalist and briefly served as the managing editor of The New Yorker
, but later turned to screenplays
and finally to fiction
Cain made use of his love of music and of the opera
in particular in at least three of his novels: Serenade
(about an American opera singer who loses his voice and who, after spending part of his life south of the border, re-enters the States illegally with a Mexican prostitute in tow); Mildred Pierce
(where, as part of the subplot
, the only daughter of a successful businesswoman trains as an opera singer); and Two Can Sing
, a short semi-comic novel about the unhappy husband of an aspiring opera singer who unexpectedly discovers that he has a better voice than she does (Cain's third wife, Florence McBeth
, was a retired opera singer).
In 1944 Cain married film actress Aileen Pringle
(second of his three wives), but the marriage was a tempestuous union and dissolved in a bitter divorce two years later.
Cain continued writing up to his death. However, the many novels he published from the late 1940s onward never rivalled his earlier successes. He died an alcoholic, aged 85.
- "I make no conscious effort to be tough, or hard-boiled, or grim, or any of the things I am usually called. I merely try to write as the character would write, and I never forget that the average man, from the fields, the streets, the bars, the offices and even the gutters of his country, has acquired a vividness of speech that goes beyond anything I could invent, and that if I stick to this heritage, this logos of the American countryside, I shall attain a maximum of effectiveness with very little effort."
- (from the Preface to Double Indemnity)
(with the dates of the first book publication)