The Twenty Year Death by Ariel S. Winter – out today August 7th – is quite an accomplishment. Published by Hard Case Crime, and featuring a gloriously pulpy cover, the book consists of three novellas with an interconnecting story, each one told in the distinctive style of a classic crime novelist. Section one, “The Malniveaux Prison”, is a homage to Georges Simenon. Written in a cool, clear tone, it tells the story of a cigar-smoking French police inspector in 1931, who gets caught up in a small town murder investigation, involving the daughter of a prisoner and her alcoholic writer husband. Section two, “Falling Stars”, pays tribute to the great Raymond Chandler, with a wise-cracking but moral private eye in 1940s Hollywood, who is given the shady case of tailing a paranoid French actress (the prisoner’s daughter, ten years later). Section three, “Police at the Funeral”, features a Jim Thompson-esque narrator, the actress’s desperate, washed-up husband who, another ten years later, descends into committing murder to cover up a terrible accident.
Of the three emulated authors, Chandler is the only one I have read, but the book stands very well on its own. From the first section, I was completely engaged by the well-drawn characters and the smart dialogue. Although more happens in “Falling Stars”, and its detective Dennis Foster is a great character – apart from being period-appropriate racist – I think my favorite section is “Malniveaux Prison”. There is something very satisfying in reading the thoughts of the methodical, kind-hearted Inspector Pelleter. The train-wreck of a tale that is “Police at the Funeral” is expertly wrought, but frustrating to read; the first person narrative shoves the reader uncomfortably into the foolish husband’s mind, where he tries in vain to justify every mistake he makes. I found myself torn between wishing he would just die, and actually hoping he might get away!
The actress Chloe Rose is at the center of the three sections, but we never get to hear her side of the story. She is intriguing, even in her weak-willed acceptance of a cheating husband and her mental break-down; I do wish we could know what becomes of her in the end. I would’ve liked Foster to rescue her and take her “away from all this”. Foster has several great, gumshoe one-liners, such as, “”I thought of something smart to say to that, but then I remembered I wasn’t smart.”
The book is quite long since it has three sections, but it reads quickly and is hard to put down. Even if you’re not a crime novel fan, you will appreciate the writing and get sucked into the story. I plan to read some Georges Simenon, now that I’ve been introduced to his style. Also worth checking out: author Ariel S. Winter runs the blog, We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie, which highlights little-known children’s books written by ‘adult’ authors.
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