Sunday, March 11, 2012

Double Indemnity: A lesson in jumping to conclusions

Double Indemnity, what are you about?

Insurance agent Walter Huff is telling us a story, and we’re not quite sure what it’s about but we’re pretty sure it’s not good because he mentions a “House of Death” in the first paragraph. So here we have Walter, tried-and-true insurance man. Straight as an arrow . . . or so he would have us BELIEVE.

But wait . . . who’s this? A voluptuous lady with a husband she’s not overly fond of (but who is perfectly decent to her, I might point out). And what is this? You say she’s dropping hints about accident insurance? Run, Walter, run!

But Walter doesn’t run. Why, Walter, WHY?
“A reputable agent don’t get mixed up in stuff like that, but she was walking around the room, and I saw something I hadn’t noticed before. Under those blue pajamas was a shape to set a man nuts.” (p. 10)
Oh. Well, then. I suppose you’ll have to do something crazy, won’t you, Walter? For what chance does a man have against a set of winding lady curves?

Murder plots: the basis of every healthy relationship
So Walter and this tall drink of water waste no time scheming to knock off her husband. Their plan is to make it look like a train accident so they can collect a double indemnity (train accidents are the most uncommon of all the many kinds of accidents and, thus, yield the biggest insurance payout). As an insurance agent, Walter has a specific body of knowledge that proves extremely useful in this endeavor.
“I know all their tricks. I lie awake nights thinking up tricks, so I’ll be ready for them when they come at me. And then one night I think up a trick, and get to thinking I could crook the wheel myself if I could only put a plant out there to put down my bet. That’s all. When I met Phyllis I met my plant.” (pp. 29–30)
Around this point, I started working up some healthy indignation about Mr. Cain making The Woman look like a silly, bored housewife who needed The Big Strong Working Man to come along and handle her business. But I was wrong, dear readers, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. This is 125 pages of twists and turns, and those conclusions I jumped to were wrong, ALL WRONG.

Well played, sir.

SOURCE: Cain, James M. (1978). Double Indemnity. Toronto, Canada: Vintage.


  1. I'm planning on this one for the Smooth Criminals challenge so hooray that it is a good one and twisty and turny and whatnot. And if that Christoph Waltz  gif approves, it must be an excellent read.

  2. Meg tested, Christoph Waltz approved. ; )

    I'm curious to see what you think of it!

  3. Loved your review of this book.  In fact, I'm not sure the pleasure of reading the book itself could equal the pleasure of reading your review!


    I cannot handle Fred MacMurray saying "That's a honey of an ankle bracelet."  Because he was in The Egg and I.

    If you lived here we'd have a Double Indemnity party. I'm thinking we could Rocky Horror it, and whenever they mention the train, we could blow into those things that make train whistle sounds.

  5. Oh, flatter me. But don't stop. I like it.

  6. Well, I WASN'T particularly interested in watching the movie until you quoted Fred MacMurray and made me spit out my water.

    But I DO think the only acceptable atmosphere for watching it would include you and train whistles...and maybe conductor hats. I will put this on my list of things to do if I'm ever a resident of Chicago.