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How to Avoid a Femme Fatale: Past All Dishonor by James M. Cain

March 6, 2022

Whenever a woman asks me to murder someone, I say no and I bail out of the relationship. It’s a simple rule. I guess some guys have a tough time with it, though.

You see, I don’t have a problem with takin’ a tumble with a hot married dame here or there, but when she starts crying about how horrible her husband is and he doesn’t deserve to live, I say thank you for the afternoon and I get out of town.

Even if you think morality is relative, murdering for a woman is a bad idea. If some broad had me murder for her, what’s she gonna do in a few months when she gets bored with me? I’m paranoid enough without some ‘grieving’ hot widow who just cashed out on a life insurance policy putting my life out for sale.

So when I bought this copy of Past All Dishonor by James M. Cain for $3.00 at a used book store, I thought, here we go, another guy who murders for a bad girl. The femme fatales in James M. Cain novels are usually married women, like in The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity, so I was a little surprised that this book was a little different. Not better. Just different.

I’ll give the bad girl in Past All Dishonor some credit. She didn’t get the poor schmuck protagonist to murder for her. He did that on his own. In fact, I don’t think the bad girl in Past All Dishonor did anything all that bad until the end of the novel. Yeah, she was a prostitute, but she was open about it. She didn’t mislead the schmuck. But then he goes and murders a rich guy who’s going to marry the prostitute he’s in love with. She didn’t ask him to do it. He just did it.

And then she got turned on by it.

That was new to me. I didn’t know women got turned on by murder. I guess that’s why the murder rate in this country is so high. It’s the damn women’s fault. If women didn’t get so turned on by murder, we men wouldn’t go around killin’ each other that much.

I’m willing to be immoral for a woman, but I have my limits. I’ve lied for women in the past. I’ll do that. I’ve never murdered anybody for a woman, though. My line is somewhere in between lying and murder. I also won’t run an insurance scam for a woman. But I’ve committed a minor property damage crime for a woman. So my line is somewhere between committing a minor property damage crime and running an insurance scam.

And if I was in love with a prostitute (I know the correct form of the verb here is ‘were,’ but nobody in noir cares about subjunctive mood), I definitely wouldn’t murder for her, like the schmuck in Past All Dishonor. It would be like some no-name character murdering Richard Gere in the middle of the movie Pretty Woman. And then Julia Roberts gets turned on that the no-name character murdered Richard Gere for her. And then they decide to rob Jason Alexander. I gotta admit, that ending might have been an improvement.

Pretty Woman was a crummy movie. That’s okay. Past All Honor was kind of a crummy book. I was expecting more. Even James M. Cain can have a bad day, I guess. I don’t know what he was thinking, writing noir where the femme fatale doesn’t ask a guy to murder her husband.

Past All Dishonor does have a great mid-book summary from the schmuck’s point-of-view on page 118.-


“So you were going to save the Confederacy and help the boys in gray and now you’re a goddam paid gunman in a Nevada gambling sink all dressed in black velvet like a Mexican cowboy with yellow curls over your collar and in love with a whore that’s not worth the powder it would take to blow her to hell.”


Ha! It’s a little harsh, but it was good foreshadowing. Damn, I just gave away the ending.

I can see why noir didn’t last too long as a popular sub-genre. The situations are too easy to avoid. If some dame tells you to murder her husband, you say no. And if you fall in love with a prostitute who’s about to get married, let her get married. And then when she asks you later to kill her husband, you say no.

Unless she’s really hot.

  1. I didn’t know The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity were movies based on books. Just more evidence against the “the book is always better” argument. When the book is forgotten and the movie isn’t (The Graduate, Forrest Gump), the book isn’t better. In my opinion.

    • I don’t know. I still think Double Indemnity is better as a book than a movie, but that’s just because Fred MacMurray’s performance (and dialogue) was too hammy. And I don’t think anybody will make a movie version of Past All Dishonor.

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