Heard: Cocktail Waitress by James M. Caine, 2012, Overdrive.com.
A work of love by Charles Ardai. Ardai has a nice afterword about how he first picked up a Cain novel when he was a 18-year-old college freshman. He read that book and every other Cain book he could find. As an adult Ardai heard about an unpublished novel and kept asking people. Max Allan Collins told him about the unpublished Cocktail Waitress and Ardai found the novel in Cain's papers at the LOC.
I got way too carried away with plot rundown. Skip the rest if you like.
Joan Medford is narrating her story into a tape recorder. She was only 21 [or about that age] when her abusive drunk of a husband is killed driving drunk. Joan's husband was unable to hold a job and left her and her toddler son with a mortgage, unpaid and turned off utilities, and no money in the bank. Joan is forced to let her rotten sister-in-law care for her son. Joan left home when she was a teen and has no job skills.
Joan is under suspicion by a cop who investigated her husband's car wreck. That cop's partner gives Joan a line on a cocktail waitress job. Cop introduces Joan to restaurant owner and Joan's memory and her big breasts land her the job. Joan and co-worker Liz wear skimpy outfits and no bras. Liz does some part-time prostitution and cocktail waitresses of the time (set in the 1960s) are considered by many people to be prostitutes anyway.
Joan meets a rich guy who tips BIG. Joan meets a handsome young guy with no dough. Joan needs to support her son. The rich guy's daily tips get the house's water, electric and phone turned back on. Rich guy says, "Come to my house. I have a beneficial task for you." Joan is picked up by Rich Guy's chaffeur, driven to Rich Guy house, given a check for $50,000, and driven off. That's weird. But, Joan takes the money and buys off her home and buys the house across the street as a rental.
Rich Guy is super hot for Joan and goo-goo eyes for her. Rich Guy is old and repulsive to Joan but she plays him along. Rich Guy has angina and his doctor says, "No sex or you'll die." Joan figures, "That could work" and they are pre-engaged.
Joan also chats with Handsome Young Guy. Handsome Young Guy takes Joan to the Wigwam Club Restaurant with it's chaise lounge booths hidden by curtains and served by prostitute "waitresses". Joan is hot and very bothered by Handsome Rich Guy but runs out in her shirt, raincoat and bare skin when she thinks of the money she would throw away by not staying with Rich Guy.
Anyway. Joan and Rich Guy marry. Rich Guy's heart won't stop him from pawing on Joan. Joan thinks, "Eww, yuck!" but says, "Darling, your heart! I don't want a dead husband!". Rich Guy is frustrated. Rich Guy sees new doctor who prescribes treatment that would allow sex. Joan says, "Your new doctor is a quack!" Rich Guy screws a "masseuse" and says, "Ha! Told you!" Joan says, "It's not the same. You love me so much your emotions will drive your heart to seize! Screw hookers and you'll live. I can face this if you can, dear."
Rich Guy dies anyway. Suspicious cop thinks Joan did it. Suspicious cop finds evidence of poisoning. Handsome Young Guy and Joan shag. Handsome Young Guy kills himself after Joan skips out in the morning. Handsome Young Guy had poison at his pad and takes the (dead)fall for Rich Guy's death. Joan inherits the house and a ton of money.
1. Joan tells the story. I trusted her at first. Then the coincidences pile on. There is a better chance she is a total liar and killed all three men. Men trusted her, including the cop, but all those men were struck by her beauty and sex appeal. According to Joan all sorts of men were hitting on her. Her attorney. Her dead husband's doctor. The police. The cocktail bar customers.
2. Is Joan telling us, "I'm so lovely. Men want me. Women hate me. But, I'm just an innocent girl struggling to feed and care for her son. Cry for me."
3. Cain wrote this in 1975 shortly before he died. Cain kept fiddling and changing things around. Cain did not mark which draft was the latest and greatest and Ardai did his best to put together the final product as he thought Cain would.
4. Gratuitous Thalidomide.
5. Ardai's afterword has a nice talk about Cain's lasting impact even though he was considered a literary loser at the time. A junk writer who sold sex and violence.
6. I've emailed Ardai a couple times to say thanks for Hard Case Crime.