SINFUL WOMAN by James M. Cain (Black Lizard Books: $4.95)

James Cain's reputation rests on his novels that were made into films: "The Postman Always Rings Twice," "Mildred Pierce," "Double Indemnity." Some fans rank him with Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler, but this rather sloppy murder mystery lacks Hammett's understated elegance and Chandler's flair for striking imagery. A tale of murder, divorce and scandal involving a Hollywood movie star, "Sinful Woman" reads like a parody of '30s crime fiction. Only 111 pages long, "Sinful Woman" really is a novella, and it should have been included in an anthology of Cain's minor works, rather than being issued separately.

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