Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review: The Twenty-Year Death ~ by Ariel S. Winter


Review by John for: The Twenty-Year Death ~ by Ariel S. Winter

A unique three-in-one pulp fiction crime saga.

About:  This is three separate murder mystery stories in one book - each story set ten years apart; each featuring the same two characters, which binds the stories together; with each story written in a different style, mimicking three classic crime writers (Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson).

Clotilde Rosenkratz seemed to be destined for success and for a time was on the verge of becoming a big Hollywood star - though for public consumption her name was changed to Chloe Rose. Her husband Shem was a writer, once acclaimed but slipping inexorably downwards, his situation not helped by being an alcoholic.

Malniveau Prison - In 1931 Clotilde and Shem are living in a small town in France, when a body is found in a gutter. The investigating detective eventually finds out that the body is that of Clotilde’s father. What is unusual is that the man is supposedly locked up in a local prison, and no escapes have been reported.

The Falling Star - In 1941 Clotilde/Chloe is co-starring in a Hollywood movie, but she is nervous and convinced that someone is following her. When a hardboiled private eye is hired to investigate, things quickly become complicated and brutal murders ensue.

Police at the Funeral - In 1951 Shem has hit rock bottom, and is desperate to somehow claw his way back upwards. The death of his first wife seems to present some sort of opportunity, but he soon finds himself with blood on his hands and suspicious police investigating him. Meanwhile, Clotilde’s bleak situation is becoming even bleaker.

John’s thoughts:  I think that this is a clever idea which the author executes well.  Considering that it’s his first novel you have to admire his chutzpah for shooting for such an ambitious plot(s). The three stories are stylistically very different, and while I’ve not ready anything by any of the three influential writers (Simenon, Chandler and Thompson), others have given Winter high marks for his ability to channel their style and tone.

Did I enjoy the read and would you? That seems highly dependent on whether or not you enjoy the three original authors and their respective styles. I’d give a thumbs up to the first story, thought the second one was pretty good, and found the third to be a bit so-so. The main problem for me with the final story was that Shem Rosenkratz (the central character) is a total jerk – I always have a hard time with novels and genres that have distinctly unlikeable people as the “heroes”.  I resonated a lot more with the main characters in the first two stories and consequently enjoyed them more.

Overall the novel is fast-paced and easy to read; the book actually has over 650 pages but it certainly didn’t feel like it. But I think, a saga like this calls for a strong ending and I wasn’t crazy about how the final story wound up. So, on balance I’d rate the book 3 stars and would recommend it to anyone who likes pulp crime fiction and/or usage of unusual literary techniques.

Titan Books; Hardback: 672 pages; August 7, 2012.

For about the author see his website:

John is fussy about the endings in the books he reads. Do you have an element that consistently makes or breaks a book’s ratings for you?

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