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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Double Indemnity

cover image By: Cain, James M. (male)
Publisher: Avon Book Co. (137)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 211: PS3505 .A3113 D68 1947
Contributor: J. Lukin

General

Era: 1930s Author as on Cover: James M. Cain Geographic Locale: Los Angeles, California and environs Date of Publication: 1947  |  Original Date: 1943 Setting: urban; middle-class residences and offices, a train heading north, a ship heading south Motives: greed, murder

Plot Summary

Insurance salesman Walter Huff has long fantasized of a method whereby one could bilk an insurance company for a bundle of cash and not be found out. When he meets seductive and amoral Phyllis Nirdlinger, who has reasons for wanting her husband dead, Walter falls into her arms and her scheme. Together they concoct a plan by which they can set up the husband's "accidental" death, collect $50,000 from his insurance company, and leave no evidence enabling the company to challenge the claim. But Walter isn't invulnerable: his sentimental fondness for Phyllis's stepdaughter combines with Phyllis's psychopathic greed to put him in a position where he is more the victim than the aggressor.


Major Characters

Keyes adult male, middle-aged, big, fat, tough, insurance investigator who's nostalgic for the days when everyone at the firm was as obsessively rigorous as he is

Young Norton adult male, 35 years old, small, pudgy insurance executive, too cautious to discover the truth

Beniamino Sachetti a.k.a. Nino, adult male, 26 years old, graduate student in chemistry with a passion for justice

Walter Huff adult male, 33 years old, handsome, self-educated, insurance salesman

Phyllis Belden Nirdlinger adult female, 32 years old, shapely blonde, formerly a nurse

H.S. Nirdlinger adult male, 44 years old, big and blocky, a Stanford graduate and oil executive

Lola Nirdlinger adolescent female, 19 years old, bright and pretty



Level of Violence

one person's neck is broken, one is shot (non-fatally), two are drowned, four are revealed to have been murdered before the action of the novel. Violence is elided; only the consequences are described.


Sexuality

love and lust make people vulnerable. Only people motivated by desire for things (truth, money) have a chance of avoiding pain and betrayal.


Gender Roles

Walter sees women as either manifesting extreme goodness or evil. Men are either authority figures worthy of respect or dull oafs worthy of manipulation.


Ethnicity

generally not specified; all the characters are presumably European-Americans. There may be anti-Italian prejudice on the part of the authorities who wrongly suspect Sachetti.


Alcohol/Drug Abuse

social drinking and cigarette smoking are depicted. Walter describes the experience of being etherized for surgery.


Law Enforcement

no police officers are depicted. Keyes is interested in solving the crime to protect his company, not to enforce the law. Even Sachetti has a personal motive in seeking out evidence against the killer.


Added Features

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Subject Headings

California - Los Angeles/ Insurance Agents/ Murder/ Guilt/ Greed


Psychological Elements

one character is so psychopathically greedy that she'll kill for trivial reasons. The fact that the perpetrators have no moral center or ideal to adhere to imperils their psychological balance and leads to their self-destructive and despairing end.


Film Adaptations

Double Indemnity, 1944, Paramount; Double Indemnity, 1973, made-for-TV movie