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The Twenty-Year Death (2012)

by Ariel S. Winter(Favorite Author)
3.72 of 5 Votes: 5
0857685813 (ISBN13: 9780857685810)
Hard Case Crime
Hard Case Crime
review 1: A trio of stand-alone crime/noir novels that actually form a complete story when read together, The Twenty-Year Death is a homage to the novels of George Simenon, Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson. In fact, each novel is written in the style of these authors, and while I haven't read anything by them, I'm aware of their stylistic niches, and the stories definitely seem to be faithful to them. The Inspector Maigret-type opener, Malniveau Prison, was the least resonant to me, as it takes place in the French countryside of the 1930s, a place and time I have no feel for. Much more successful was the second novel, The Falling Star, which crackles with the first-person hard-boiled narration of a Philip Marlowe-type private detective getting caught up in the shady dealings a movi... moree studio and a mentally frail starlet; you can practically hear Humphrey Bogart's cynical voice in your head. The final book, Police at the Funeral, has the inexorable pull of watching a slow-motion car crash. The (anti-)hero of this tale is a washed-up novelist who played a supporting role in the first two stories, here down on his luck, cash-strapped and just morally compromised enough to try to coast on the inheritance of the estranged son who he "accidentally" killed in a drunken haze. This being a Thompson pastiche, Shem Rosenkrantz has nowhere to go but down. A fast-paced and extremely enjoyable romp, The Twenty-Year Death is a great introduction to some masters of the genre, and a stylistic tour de force in its own right.
review 2: A first crime novel of startling virtuosity, a brilliant flawed masterpiece. The Twenty-Year Death is billed as a three-in-one thriller, though it's really three separate novels with a thin thread holding them together. Winter writes the first, Malniveau Prison, in the style of the classic puzzle writer Georges Simenon. The second, The Falling Star, is a Chandleresque "seamy side of Hollywood" tale featuring a cynical Marlowesque narrator who can't be dishonest even when he'd like to be. The third, Police at the Funeral, takes us to the heart of darkness by channelling the blackhearted Jim Thompson. The only thing that holds these three novels together is the character of Shem Rosenkrantz and his French wife Clotilde-ma-Fleur, later called Chloe. Winter follows these characters from France to California, but doesn't do much with them in the first two books. Clotilde is hardly a character at all, more of a symbolic figure who changes in each novel, though what she symbolizes is not clear. The problem with the first two books, virtuosic as they are, is that they don't amount to much as thrillers. After scintillating buildups, the denouements of both fall flat. Still, the characters of the Maigret-like detective Pelleter and the Marlowe clone Dennis Foster often outdo their originals. But it isn't until Police at the Funeral that The Twenty-Year death hits its stride. We are now in the clutches of Shem Rosenkrantz as narrator, and he turns out to be a much darker character than the first two books suggest. Winter has Thompson's narrative style as well as his fathomless tar pit psychology down to perfection: What makes Rosenkrantz so compelling is that he's not some psychopath to whom we can feel morally superior if intellectually inferior. He's got Thompson's typical combination of human weakness and the inability, or unwillingness, to reject its pull. And once the pull starts, it's down, down, down to depths we can imagine in ourselves even if we'd never go there. This is more psychological horror than crime fiction, and it works brilliantly. Like Thompson, Winter eschews all paranormality or supernaturalism, which makes the horror all the more convincing. Winter doesn't always do a good job of connecting his characters, and he doesn't have the true mystery writer's sense of inevitable climax. Even so, this is a more riveting read than all but the very best thrillers, and its sense of horror at the end is unmatched. If there's a crime writer to watch, it's Ariel S. Winter. Who will he inhabit, then transcend, next? less
Reviews (see all)
The conceit does not really play out to its true end. Interesting pastiches, however.
A four because of how good "The Falling Star" is. The other two are two's.
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