The Twenty-Year Death
It takes guts to attempt to replicate the literary style of one crime-fiction icon. But exactly what viscera are required to take on three?
And this 700-page trifecta is nothing if not visceral. Animal and intuitive, The Twenty-Year Death offers three satisfying, standalone noir novels, set in three time periods ten years apart. Together they form a corpus delicti more than the sum of its parts. Or, if you’ve had it with the innards metaphor, think of a séance that conjures up Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson collaborating on the ultimate story of damnation.
Ariel S. Winter might best be compared to Quentin Tarantino—the video-store clerk who came out of nowhere to write and direct the instant-classic film Pulp Fiction. A former bookseller, Winter seems to have absorbed his stock through his skin, yet the evocative episodes that make up this first novel are wholly original and timeless.
Each crime is unrelated, but their aftereffects haunt two of the characters that appear, more or less, in all three. Beginning with 1921’s Malniveau Prison, Chief Inspector Pelleter, in the Maigret mold, is summoned to a French village by an imprisoned psychopath (who would leave Hannibal Lecter fearing for his own liver) on the same day another convict is discovered dead in a ditch, though no one knew he was missing from his cell. Ten years later, the murdered man’s daughter, Clothilde, now a famous Hollywood actress, and her husband, Shem Rosenkrantz, an American novelist turned screenwriter, travel to Philip Marlowe territory for The Falling Star. There, private eye Dennis Foster is hired by the movie studio to keep an eye on its possibly paranoid leading lady, but instead stumbles onto a slain starlet and a sure setup. Police at the Funeral finds Rosenkrantz down on his luck in Maryland in 1951, desperate for a drink and redemption. Guess which wins out?
With this compelling trio of tales, Winter makes a one-of-a-kind entrance to crime fiction. Nearly as astonishing: he has also brought forth, seemingly simultaneously, a charming children’s picture book, One of a Kind (Aladdin, June 2012). It would seem that no genre is safe from Winter’s dissection and reanimation. All should be flattered by his attention.