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James Mallahan Cain (1892-1977) was an American author and the granddaddy of the hardboiled school of 20th century American tough guy fiction. His books were reprinted worldwide, and in Great Britain his 1934 classic first novel THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE was published in hardcover by Jonathan Cape. There were at least two rare early softcover editions, both with plain text covers with no art – Methuen, 1937, and British Publishers Guild (Cape), 1941. The best-known British POSTMAN paperback is Penguin 874 from 1952. There is also a Panther edition of the book with several printings in the 1960s. (I’ve also seen an early British Pocket Book of MILDRED PIERCE.) And there were a small group of Cain novels in the late 50’s-early 60s from UK Ace (Harborough). They published vintage PB editions of JEALOUS WOMAN, THE ROOT OF HIS EVIL and THE MOTH - and the two books shown here:


In 1964, Corgi Books of London printed the first UK paperback edition of Cain’s 1962 novel MIGNON. Corgi had an arrangement at this time with the American publisher Bantam Books, and the UK edition of MIGNON features the same Mitchell Hooks cover art as the Bantam edition. Corgi also used the graphic layout of the Bantam edition with minor changes: the author’s name “James M.” and then “Cain” in bigger letters below it, and “famous author of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE” etc.

Corgi went on to do a dozen of Cain’s books, all of them reusing the graphic layout of MIGNON. The remaining 11, however, all have photo covers. The last six of these covers use provocative nude photographs that have added a great deal to the set’s desirability for paperback collectors. Not counting posthumous publications, all of Cain’s novels (except POSTMAN, a cash cow that Penguin & Panther had no desire to release their grip on) appear in Corgi uniform editions up until his final two novels. Written late in his life, RAINBOW’S END and THE INSTITUTE were published in the United Kingdom by Magnum, and since both feature sexy photo covers in the spirit of the Corgis, I’ve included them below.

So each cover of the Corgi set references THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, a book Corgi never published.







MIGNON – Corgi GN7002, 1964. Cain’s 1962 Civil War story was his first in a decade.

MILDRED PIERCE – Corgi FN7205, 1965. Third of Cain’s novels (1941).


DOUBLE INDEMNITY – Corgi FN7206, 1965. Although titled just DOUBLE INDEMNITY, like the Robert Hale UK hardcover it reprints, this is actually a collection of three short novels that appeared in America as THREE OF A KIND in 1943. The other two books are CAREER IN C MAJOR and THE EMBEZZLER.

GALATEA – Corgi GN7207, 1965. The American hardcover appeared in 1953.

SERENADE – Corgi GN7284, 1965. SERENADE (1937) was Cain’s masterful second novel about a bisexual opera singer and a Mexican prostitute. A weak watered-down movie version in 1956 failed to capture the raw emotion of this story. Now that movies are more permissive, somebody should remake this more faithfully.


THE BUTTERFLY – Corgi GN7319, 1966.

LOVE’S LOVELY COUNTERFEIT – Corgi GN7388, 1966. Cain’s 1942 novel is not a bad book, it just pales in the company of his powerful early stories like POSTMAN and SERENADE and DOUBLE INDEMNITY.

JEALOUS WOMAN – Corgi GN7440, 1966. The Corgis are paperback editions of the Robert Hale UK hardcovers, so just like the Hale edition this volume collects two books: JEALOUS WOMAN (1950) and SINFUL WOMAN (1947). Since those were both Avon paperback originals in the US, and only SINFUL WOMAN saw an American hardcover edition until 1980, the Hale edition is the first hardcover appearance of JEALOUS WOMAN.


THE ROOT OF HIS EVIL – Corgi GN7518, 1966. THE ROOT OF HIS EVIL was the third of Cain’s three Avon paperback originals, first appearing in book form in 1951. The UK Robert Hale edition was the first hardcover.

PAST ALL DISHONOUR – Corgi GN7581, 1967. Cain’s 1946 sixth novel is generally considered one of his lesser efforts. (According to the copyright page, there was a Digit edition in 1964.)

THE MAGICIAN’S WIFE – Corgi 552-07850-6, 1968. James M. Cain’s 1965 thriller, published in the US by Dial Press, was a return to the hardboiled style of his earlier books


THE MOTH – Corgi 552-07958-8, 1968. Cain is often compared to hardboiled authors like Hemingway and Hammett, but he always reminds me more of American vernacular writers like Ring Lardner. His best books, like THE MOTH from 1948, are told in a conversational first person style so comfortable you begin to feel like he’s talking just to you. And that of course is one of the traits of a true storyteller.


RAINBOW’S END – Magnum 0-417-02020-1, 1977. Those fine Corgi photo covers were not credited, but RAINBOW’S END features an awesome wraparound cover photo by Bill Carter. It really captures the book brilliantly. Cain lived a good long life and every time the book world had counted him out he would return, sometimes after a decade, with something like this. The setup is one question: What would YOU do if D.B. Cooper parachuted into your backyard with a suitcase full of money and a gorgeous stewardess? Here’s a hint: that’s the naked stewardess in your bathroom on the cover.

THE INSTITUTE – Magnum 0-417-01830-4, 1977. Not among his best books (the femme fatale’s name is Hortense, that’s never a good sign), but the UK paperback does have a naughty girl-with-a-smoking-gun photo cover by Robert Golden for admirers of rampant symbolism.

Camus called him “the greatest American writer”. Edmund Wilson had Cain’s number; he called him “a poet of the tabloid murder”. Tom Wolfe said that Cain was “a master of the change of pace.” And Ross Macdonald called him “a conscious and deliberate artist” (yeah, but as Tony Bennett once said when told he was Frank Sinatra’s favorite singer, “what does HE know about it”?).

This is the French POSTMAN, Gallimard 137:


Lynn Munroe Books