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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Sinful Woman

James M. Cain

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To purchase Sinful Woman

Title: Sinful Woman
Author: James M. Cain
Genre: Novel
Written: 1947
Length: 111 pages
Availability: Sinful Woman - US
Sinful Woman - UK
Sinful Woman - Canada
Engelsgesicht - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : a bit convoluted, but good pulp fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 22/10/1989 Charles Solomon

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)his rather sloppy murder mystery lacks Hammett's understated elegance and Chandler's flair for striking imagery. A tale of murder, divorce and scandal involving a Hollywood movie star, Sinful Woman reads like a parody of '30s crime fiction." - Charles Solomon, The Los Angeles Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Sinful Woman of the title, actress Sylvia Shoreham, doesn't really sound all that bad at the beginning of this novel. But as Cain introduces her in the first paragraphs of the novel -- nameless, all woman -- he warns the reader of a simple fact that can't be overlooked:

(...) her figure was wholly sinful. It may have been part of the reason, indeed, for the spirituality of her face, for its breathtaking voluptuousness could not be concealed under any sort of clothing and condemned her, no matter where she went, to the role of nude descending perpetual public staircases; thus she moved as though withdrawn into herself, with an abstracted, Godivanian saunter that was aware of nothing nearer than the sky.
       So, at the end of the first page she -- and he -- certainly have the reader's attention. And Sylvia's manner -- commanding, winning, a star who knows the effect she has (and how to fan the fervour of her fans) -- holds it tight.
       Sylvia is in Reno, resident there until her divorce comes through -- as it is supposed to on the day the book opens. It starts out as the best day of her life for a long time: by ending her marriage to Baron Victor "Vicki" Adlerkreutz she'll also finally free herself from an onerous film contract working for Vicki's buddy Dmitri "Dimmy" Spiro, making second-rate pictures that are beneath her. She has it all perfectly planned -- but then she learns that Vicki plans to remarry right away, and that he's going to marry the one person who would undo the plan she's worked years to put into place.
       Before her day starts falling apart she meets the local Sheriff, Parker Lucas, who is an ardent admirer -- at least of Sylvia's great first film. But he has no respect for her recent offerings -- music to her ears, since she can't stand the stuff she's been doing either. She and Parker hit it off -- but then Sylvia's best laid plans begin going astray.
       Within a few hours nobody is smiling any more. Vicki winds up dead, a nosy insurance agent shows up and looks to see how he can spin the tale to limit his company's liability, while Dimmy needs to spin it so that he can continue to force Sylvia to star in his pictures. And Sylvia is also trying to protect someone. It gets real messy, real fast, and it's a convoluted plot even by pulp standards. But it's hard not to admire a book where an inquest is held in a casino, the Coroner officiating from a roulette table, "rapping for order with the croupier's stick".
       Briefly (after proceedings are interrupted by a fire that someone sets in the casino) practically everybody -- including the Sheriff, Sylvia, and Dimmy -- are placed under arrest, but the conflicting stories and conspiracies sort themselves out (sort of) to something close to general satisfaction. Briefly it looks like things won't work out entirely, because Sylvia is, indeed, the sinful woman of the title (whereby murder isn't a sin in this pulp-world, but Sylvia's behaviour certainly is), but Cain goes all the way for the too-good-to-be-true Hollywood ending, personal sacrifice making Sylvia and the Sheriff even larger than life.
       This is one nutty plot, but Cain holds it together pretty well, and some of the writing is just so good that he can be forgiven. 1940s Reno, how Hollywood works, over-sexed women: it's good stuff. Barely over a hundred pages (and originally published in paperback, which at that time meant no reviewer would deign to touch it), this is a fine, fast piece of pulp -- and better than some of Cain's better-known works.

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Reviews: James M. Cain: Other books by James Cain under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author James Mallahan Cain (1892-1977) was, among other things, managing editor of The New Yorker and a screenwriter. He published his first novel when he was forty-two, and achieved great success with several hard-boiled classics.

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