The noir fiction novel JDM wanted forgotten.
By Kevin Comer
Weep for Me, published by Gold Medal Books in 1951, was an early foray by JDM into noir fiction; a foray JDM so regretted that he opposed its reprinting, hoping it would “die quietly in the back of used paperback book nooks.” JDM summed up the reasons for his attitude in this way: “It’s really quite a bad book …imitation James M. Cain …with some gratuitous and unmotivated scenes.”
Noir fiction is a sub-genre of hard-boiled fiction. The protagonist is a perpetrator, suspect, or victim, who may be self-destructive or psychopathic. James M. Cain was one of the first to popularize the form with novels such as The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) and Double Indemnity (1943). The narrative arcs of the former and Weep for Me are more or less identical: Hitherto honest man meets bad, conniving woman; she’s so hot, he can’t help himself; things go from bad to worse.
In Weep for Me, the first person protagonist, Kyle Cameron, is a bank teller on the verge of marriage to his longtime sweetheart when he meets femme fatale Emily Rudolph, a new employee at First Citizens’ National Bank of Thrace, New York. From the moment he first hears Emily’s voice when phoning the accounting department, he is hooked and his self-destructive slide into crime begins.
Emily soon has Kyle wrapped around her little finger. He’s thrown over his fiancée and he and Emily are stealing money from the bank in a scheme that involves his ability to cash forged checks and her keeping the accounts. They know they can only get away with this for a short time and, after filling a suitcase with $250,000, they go on the lam. They have a plan to drive to Mexico City where Emily says she knows of a man who can get them to Argentina. Needless to say, things do not go as planned. Emily can’t be trusted, and they both have seriously underestimated the dangers they’ll face.
I found several positive reviews of this book, contradicting JDM’s own assessment, and as I read it there were times when I thought it was okay. The plot is decent, up until the ending. The story has its moments. But when I put the book down, I had to agree with JDM: This is not a good book. It’s an overheated melodrama with an atrocious ending, and at times the prose is as purple as a bruise.
JDM was no Dickens-like prodigy. He was a working writer, sitting at his typewriter all day, every day pounding out the work. In at least one interview, JDM stated he’d had “the chance to earn while learning.” There is ample evidence that JDM would have readily acknowledged that he was learning throughout his career and that he seldom considered himself entirely successful in achieving his goals for a specific story. In fact, Ed Gorman—author of the Sam McCain series among others, who interviewed JDM three times—recalls JDM telling him that he often thought of his books in terms of percentages. He’d been 70% successful with this one; 80% with that one.
When viewed from this perspective, even work like Weep for Me, that JDM deemed an utter failure and best forgotten, provides insight into JDM’s process and development as a writer. As we all know, his best writing was still ahead of him when Weep for Me was published.