Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Cain's Woman by O. G. Benson

Cain's Woman by O. G. Benson
Dell FE A200, Copyright 1960

In 1960, O. G. Benson may have given us one of the most creative PI novels ever written, with a pragmatic Chicago private investigator that works out of his own office.

"The last time I cried had been at night on the lumpy mattress of a cell in a lockup in San Francisco while somewhere outside, in the darkness of the city, the woman I loved had waited to divorce me and marry another man."

The beautiful, young Mrs. Naomi Cain is being blackmailed; someone has pornographic pictures of her from her past. She is married to the wealthy and elderly Jedediah Cain, and needs to get this resolved before her husband finds out. Naomi hires Chicago PI Max Raven, still getting over his divorce, to get them back. Raven gets off to a bad start and botches the case at the start. But he gets back on track and starts making progress. The story takes us from Chicago, to an investigation in NYC, then back to Chicago. Raven eventually falls hard for Mrs. Cain, which ties him emotionally to the case. Secrets get revealed and her past starts to unwind. Raven pieces it all together, which at the end falls apart in his hands.

"My fist hit him and the scream died as a gurgle in his throat. I hit him again and felt the jar wrench my shoulder. He slid down the wall like a punctured bag of sand and I kicked him in the face."

This is an excellent PI novel in every way, with many surprises and a terrific ending.
The relationship and interaction between Raven and Naomi Cain, as a client and lover, is brilliantly woven. Max Raven has real emotions, good and bad, which interferes with his ability to solve the case. He’s a troubled PI, believable and realistic. You get the impression that this is how a PI, operating on his own, goes at it. Raven goes up against some slimy people and gets knocked around some, but he is a tough character and stays with it. A slick, hardboiled novel that contains my favorite opening and closing paragraphs in any PI story. In some circles this has been called a "cult classic" and I can see why. To bad Mr. Benson didn't write more PI novels, with Max Raven in them.

O.G. Benson's real name is Ben Benson (not to be confused with the Ben Benson who wrote the Wade Paris and Ralph Lindsey novels in the 1950s) and “Cain’s Wife” was his first novel. I know of no other book that he has authored, but I assume there must be a couple more. He was a fairly accomplished painter and his work is on display at the Richard Gray Gallery in Chicago. He died of cancer at the age of 74 in 2002.

This paperback finally got enough recognition and was published again in 1985 by Perennial Library. It was retitled as "Cain's Wife" and they gave it a horrible cover, but at least they threw it out there.

1 comment:

Steve Lewis said...

One of my favorite "unknown" mystery novels, August. When Jeff at The Rap Sheet asked people a while ago for books they'd like to nominate in such a category, I was going to tell him about this one -- but I couldn't find my copy, and I had to use William Campbell Gault's first book instead.

Gault's book was good, but this one's better. I wish I could find my copy, but I haven't, so far.

--Steve