SINFUL WOMAN is regarded as one of James M. Cain’s lesser novels, but let’s face it, when you’re the author of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE and DOUBLE INDEMNITY, most of your other novels are going to be regarded as lesser. SINFUL WOMAN may not be anywhere near the level of those two novels, but it’s still a pretty entertaining yarn.
Set in Reno, Nevada, the story concerns beautiful actress Sylvia Shoreham, who’s there to get a divorce from her husband, a formerly penniless European baron turned movie producer. Sylvia meets the local sheriff, Parker Lucas, and they fall for each other immediately, but things are complicated by the arrival in town of the baron, his somewhat shady partner in the movie studio that has Sylvia under contract, and some colorful hangers-on. Throw in a casino owner, Sylvia’s troublesome sister, some insurance guys (Cain must have loved the insurance business, as often as it turns up in his books), and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that somebody winds up dead and Sheriff Lucas has a mess on his hands trying to untangle everything and save Sylvia from a murder charge . . . that is, unless she’s really guilty.
This is one of those books where a lot happens in a span of about twelve hours, and the plot gets pretty complicated. I think it all makes sense in the end, but I’m not sure. My only real complaint is that Cain goes overboard on the dialect in places. But I like the characters, especially the sheriff, and the book is pretty funny in places. The back cover copy on the edition I read refers to it as “a zany soap opera”, and that’s a good description. It’s definitely in the screwball vein.
If you’ve never read Cain’s work before, SINFUL WOMAN is not the book you should start with, since it’s not really that typical of his other books. But if you like the others, you’ll probably enjoy this one, too, despite its oddball nature. I thought it was fun.