More Better Deals by Joe R. Lansdale

More Better Deals is Texas writer Joe R. Lansdale’s down-and-dirty riff on Double Indemnity, a provocative new variation on James M. Cain’s noir classic. Lansdale reimagines the Walter Neff character as Ed Edwards, the son of a Black father and white mother whose skin is light enough to “pass” in segregated 60s East Texas, where he sells used cars instead of insurance. Saddled with an alcoholic mother but blessed with a promising younger sister, he’s eager to ditch the sleazy used-car racket and find a more lucrative shortcut to success, whatever that might involve. After Ed pays married blonde bombshell Nancy Craig a visit to repossess her red Cadillac (sexual-metaphor alert!) for the dealership, the two start an affair, and Nancy proposes that they kill her husband for the life-insurance payout and live wealthily ever after. This sounds doable to Ed, whose moral compass is only slightly sounder than Nancy’s broken one.

A provocative new variation on James M. Cain’s noir classic.

By giving Ed a potentially ruinous personal secret, Lansdale makes his twisted ambition more understandable. We’re kind of with him, or at least not with Nancy, whose first meeting with Ed summons up images of both an alligator and a shark. The wisecracking dialogue—“You look like someone mixed you up with the right ingredients, handsome” is Nancy’s come-on to Ed—pushes the art of the double entendre right to the edge of parody. And though we know this shifty alliance isn’t going to end well, Lansdale’s ingenuity in devising more better ways for Nancy and Ed to be bad makes for an enjoyably cynical cruise down the back roads to perdition.