Paperback: Mildred Pierce, by James M Cain

Mildred Pierce (as we know from Joan Crawford's bravura performance in the eponymous movie role) had a good pair of legs, a way with a skillet and a steely inner resolve to claw her way back out of poverty and divorce. Her weaknesses were a soft spot for low-rent men, and her misplaced devotion to her monstrous eldest daughter, Veda. Now reissued, James M Cain's original 1941 novel, on which the Hollywood classic was based, is nothing like the dime-store melodrama that you might expect. His shrewd, if far from affectionate, portrait of female psychology makes it an unputdownable read.