Four years after his sensational first novel, Mr. Cain appears with a new one which definitely places him among the best story-tellers in America. The emphasis is hereby put upon the word , for that, above everything else, is what this book is. It is an account of the lives of two men and one woman and of their relations with each other, which begins in a moment of tenseness and passion and moves forward with amazing speed, in the clipped and biting prose that Cain has made his own, to still greater heights — to emotion so taut that it must break in violence. The story is set in Mexico, Hollywood, and New York — a simple, primitive scene on the one hand, a brilliant, sophisticated one on the other. There are tenderness and beauty in the book, and also murder and vice. The arts of the film, the opera, and the bullfight are in it, and an incredible understanding of the strange nature of the human animal. But above all, a story is in it — a story full of fury and terror and love, which once begun must be finished and once read will be remembered.

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I was in the Tupinamba, having a bizcocho and coffee, when this girl came in. Everything about her said Indian, from the maroon rebozo to the black dress with purple flowers on it, to the swaying way she walked, that no woman ever got without carrying pots, bundles, and baskets on her head from the time she could crawl. But she wasn’t any of the colors that Indians come in. She was almost white, with just the least dip of café con leche. Her shape was Indian, but not ugly. Most Indian women have a rope of muscle over their hips that give them a high-waisted, mis-shapen look, thin, bunchy legs, and too much breast-works. She had plenty in that line, but her hips were round, and her legs had a soft line to them. She was slim, but there was something voluptuous about her, like in three or four years she would get fat. All that, though, I only half saw. What I noticed was her face. It was flat, like an Indian’s but the nose broke high, so it kind of went with the way she held her head, and the eyes weren’t dumb, with that shiny, shoe-button look. They were pretty big, and black, but they leveled out straight, and had kind of a sleepy, impudent look to them. Her lips were thick, but pretty, and of course had plenty of lipstick on them.

It was about nine o’clock at night, and the place was pretty full, with bullfight managers, agents, newspaper men, pimps, cops and almost everybody you can think of, except somebody you would trust with your watch. She went to the bar and ordered a drink, then went to a table and sat down, and I had a stifled feeling I had had before, from the thin air up there, but that wasn’t it this time. There hadn’t been any woman in my life for quite some while, and I knew what this meant. Her drink came, and it was Coca-Cola and Scotch, and I thought that over. It might mean that she was just starting the evening, and it might mean she was just working up an appetite, and if it meant that I was sunk. The Tupinamba is more of a café than a restaurant, but plenty of people eat there, and if that was what she expected to do, my last three pesos wouldn’t go very far.

I had about decided to take a chance and go over there when she moved. She slipped over to a place about two tables away, and then she moved again, and I saw what she was up to. She was closing in on a bullfighter named Triesca, a kid I had seen a couple of times in the ring, once when he was on the card with Solorzano, that seemed to be their main ace at the time, and once after the main season was over, when he killed two bulls in a novillada they had one Sunday in the rain. He was a wow with the cape, and just moving up into the money. He had on the striped suit a Mexican thinks is pretty nifty, and a cream-colored hat. He was alone, but the managers, agents, and writers kept dropping by his table. She didn’t have much of a chance, but every time three or four or five of them would shove off she would slip nearer. Pretty soon she dropped down beside him. He didn’t take off his hat. That ought to have told me something, but it didn’t. All I saw was a cluck too stuck on himself to know how to act. She spoke, and he nodded, and they talked a little bit, and it didn’t look like she had ever seen him before. She drank out, and he let it ride for a minute, then he ordered another.

When I got it, what she was in there for, I tried to lose interest in her, but my eyes kept coming back to her. After a few minutes, I knew she felt me there, and I knew some of the other tables had tumbled to what was going on. She kept pulling her rebozo around her, like it was cold, and hunching one shoulder up, so she half had her back to me. All that did was throw her head up still higher, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her at all. So of course a bullfighter is like any other ham, he’s watching every table but his own, and he had no more sense than to see these looks that were going round. You understand, it’s a dead-pan place, a big café with a lot of mugs sitting around with their hats on the back of their heads, eating, drinking, smoking, reading, and jabbering Spanish, and there wasn’t any nudging, pointing, or hey-get-a-load-of-this. They strictly minded their business. Just the same, there would be a pair of eyes behind a newspaper that weren’t on the newspaper, or maybe a waitress would stop by somebody, and say something, and there’d be a laugh just a little louder than a waitress’s gag is generally worth. He sat there, with a kind of a foolish look on his face, snapping his fingernail against his glass, and then I felt a prickle go up my spine. He was getting up, he was coming over.

A guy with three pesos in his pocket doesn’t want any trouble, and when the room froze like a stop-camera shot, I tried to tell myself to play it friendly, to get out of it without starting something I couldn’t stop. But when he stood there in front of me he still had on that hat.

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