James M. Cain was born in Annapolis on July 1, 1892. He was raised in Chestertown, Maryland, and graduated from Washington College, where his father was president. After serving in World War I, he returned to Baltimore where he began working as a reporter. He first worked for the Baltimore American and then for the Baltimore Sun until 1923. After a time in New York, Cain moved to Hollywood. There he tried screenwriting, but found greater success when he turned to fiction. His first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, was published in 1934 and was a runaway bestseller. Cain returned to Maryland in 1948, settling in Hyattsville. He continued to write and was a familiar figure on the College Park campus. James M. Cain died October 27th, 1977.
Cain did not write mysteries or detective fiction; he wrote novels of crime, sex and violence. The majority of Cain's plots follow the same predictable plan: a man falls for a woman, becomes involved in criminal activity with the woman, and is eventually betrayed by the woman. Although predictable, this basic plot line was used to great success, and continues to be serviceable today -- such as in the Cain-inspired films Body Heat or Blood Simple. Cain's writing style is hard boiled, pared down to essential phrases with terse, almost brutal simplicity.
The University of Maryland's James M. Cain collection is one of its treasures. All of the hardbacks are first editions, and all have been inscribed by the author. The department is attempting to build a comprehensive collection of Cain, including paperback reprints (some of which are displayed in this exhibit), to demonstrate the continued popularity of this great Maryland writer.