The Twenty-Year Death
By Ariel S. Winter
(Hard Case Crime, Hardcover, 9780857685810, 700pp.)
Publication Date: August 7, 2012
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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THERE’S NEVER BEEN A BOOK LIKE
THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH
A breathtaking first novel written in the form of three separate crime novels, each set in a different decade and penned in the style of a different giant of the mystery genre.
The body found in the gutter in France led the police inspector to the dead man’s beautiful daughter—and to her hot-tempered American husband.
A hardboiled private eye hired to keep a movie studio’s leading lady happy uncovers the truth behind the brutal slaying of a Hollywood starlet.
A desperate man pursuing his last chance at redemption finds himself with blood on his hands and the police on his trail...
Three complete novels that, taken together, tell a single epic story, about an author whose life is shattered when violence and tragedy consume the people closest to him. It is an ingenious and emotionally powerful debut performance from literary detective and former bookseller Ariel S. Winter, one that establishes this talented newcomer as a storyteller of the highest caliber.
A long-time bookseller at The Corner Bookstore in New York City and Borders in Baltimore, Ariel S. Winter is also the author of the forthcoming children's picture book One of a Kind (Aladdin) and of the blog We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie, devoted to the rediscovery of long-forgotten children's books written by literary icons such as John Updike, Langston Hughes, and Gertrude Stein. His writing has appeared in The Urbanite and on McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and in 2008 he won the Free Press "Who Can Save Us Now?" short story contest. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
Lynn Neary talks to three critics about the books you absolutely shouldn't miss this summer. Critic Laura Miller of Salon.com, says it's a particularly rich literary summer because in election years, publishers release their juiciest books before the fall. More at NPR.org
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"The most audacious crime-fiction novel of 2012 is also a debut: Ariel S. Winter's "The Twenty-Year Death," a hat-trick of linked books written in a pastiche of genre-masters Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson. The work's linking character, Shem Rosenkrantz, is first encountered in France in 1931, married to a beautiful woman with connections to a killer hunted by an Inspector Maigret-like detective. Ten years later, he and his wife are in Southern California—she now a fear-ridden movie star, he a philandering author, with their travails watched by a Philip Marlowe-style private eye. Rosenkrantz takes the narrator's role for the final section, set in 1951 Maryland, where the washed-up writer, in a Thompson-like mode, returns to his hometown in hopes of a life-saving legacy. Mr. Winters's superb mimicries avoid stylistic excess and cut to the dark heart of the matter." – The Wall Street Journal
"...it’s difficult not to feel a little spellbound by “The Twenty-Year Death.” In the final oddly triumphant image of Shem — “And I grinned all the way” — I thought I could glimpse the author’s giddy glance back at his achievement here: outrageous, obsessive, playful. Such qualities should win over aficionados of the writers emulated here — and make them fans of this fresh new voice in crime fiction." – Washington Post
Hard Case Crime originals are notable for capturing the feel of pulp classics without slavish imitation—which makes this first novel somewhat unusual. Winter, a “literary detective” and former bookseller, tells an epic tale in the form of three novels written in the style of three different crime-fiction legends.
Book 1, Malniveau Prison, channels Georges Simenon as Chief Inspector Pelleter tries to deduce how a murdered prisoner escaped the prison walls. Book 2, The Falling Star, is the Chandleresque story of a private eye, Dennis Foster, who’s hired to reassure a paranoid movie star and maybe take the rap for a murder. A recurring character in both books is Shem Rosenkrantz, an American writer who first seeks seclusion in France and then squanders his talents in Hollywood.
In book 3, Police at the Funeral, Rosenkrantz takes over the narration with the voice of a washed-up Jim Thompson protagonist, and, as he unravels, we see how the stories are stitched together. This is audacious and astonishingly executed.
Winter understands the difference between mimicry and interpretation and opts for the latter, capturing the writers’ voices, not merely their vocal tics. What might seem at first like an amusing exercise for crimefiction buffs becomes by the end immersive, exhilarating, and revelatory. — Keir Graff Booklist Starred Review
“Bold, innovative, and thrilling – The Twenty-Year Death crackles with suspense and will keep you up late.” - Stephen King
“Not content with writing one first novel like ordinary mortals, Ariel Winter has written three – and in the style of some of the most famous crime writers of all time for good measure. It's a virtuoso act of literary recreation that's both astonishingly faithful and wildly, audaciously original. One hell of a debut.” - James Frey
“The Twenty-Year Death is a bravura debut, ingenious and assured, and a fitting tribute to the trio of illustrious ghosts who are looking – with indulgence, surely – over Ariel Winter’s shoulder.” - John Banville
“The Twenty-Year Death is an absolute astonishment. Ariel S. Winter manages to channel three iconic crime writers and pull off a riveting story of a two-decade ruination in which it is the things not said that somehow have the loudest echoes.” - Peter Straub
“As an old-school fan of Georges Simenon, I read MALNIVEAU PRISON with awe and delight.” - Alice Sebold on Book 1 of The Twenty-Year Death
“Expertly summoning the most sinuous strains of Chandler, THE FALLING STAR sinks you into its dark, sleek world.” - Megan Abbott on Book 2 of The Twenty-Year Death
“If ever there was a born writer, Mr. Winter is one…Mr. Winter's work is sharp, smart, original, intensely interesting and ingenious.” - Stephen Dixon
“A tour de force, or rather three different, ingeniously interwoven, tours de force. An exciting book that will make many commuters miss their stop.” - Richard Vinen
“The Twenty-Year Death is an exceptionally ambitious, inventive crime novel that echoes three classic authors while extending the idea of what a crime novel can do. The scope and versatility are breathtaking. Bravo to Ariel S. Winter and Hard Case Crime.” - David Morrell
"This isn t a first novel so much as a series of three discrete but interrelated first novels, each written (with apologies from the author) in the style of a different iconic thriller writer Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson, respectively. This is a bold, not to say supremely cheeky, conceit and if Winter hasn t completely channeled the hard hearts and gimlet styles of these dark, departed legends, the good news is that he delivers something even better: a hell of a lot of fun. The noir triptych is nominally linked by the presence of an alcoholic (but of course!) American writer, Shem Rosenkrantz, who remains largely if menacingly in the background for the first two installments before emerging (in first person) center stage in the last, best story. Set in the fictitious Verargent, France, circa 1931, the first book, Malniveau Prison, revolves around the mysterious death of a prisoner the father of one Clothilde-ma-Fleur Meprise, Rosenkrantz s beautiful wife. (Along the way, some children and Clothilde herself go missing.) The search for the killer leads to a mysterious psychopath with a penchant for torturing tots, as well as a coverup at the titular prison. In the second, The Falling Star, set in 1941, Rosenkrantz is a womanizing L.A. screenwriter on a self-destructive slide. His wife, now working under the name Chloë Rose, is a successful but unstable starlet who suspects she s being followed. A suitably laconic Chandlerian PI, Dennis Foster, is enlisted to help the troubled star but is he really being set up for a homicidal fall? In the third, and arguably darkest, tale, Police at the Funeral, it s 1951 in Calvert, Md., and Rose has been institutionalized, leaving Rosenkrantz now a remorseful has-been roiling in the tide of his boozy dissolution. Yeah, I d always gotten a raw deal, and I was too pathetic to do anything about it, and I hated myself for that pretty much sums up the self-inflicted purgatory this antihero wallows in. The stories work wonderfully well individually, but taken together create a tapestry of associations and reflections, sort of like mirrors trained on other mirrors. The whole, as they say, is greater than the sum of its parts. Along the way, Winter manages to deliver more than a few winking nods to genre tropes without ever descending into the arch or the obvious. Though there s clearly something meta (not to say postmodern) about the whole endeavor, Winter never loses touch with his genre heart; the books practically radiate grassroots passion. No, he does not entirely capture Chandler s verbal color or masterful use of metaphor (but who does). Nor does he completely conjure up Thompson s furious fusion of horror and hilarity (but who does). He comes damn close to capturing Simenon s slick, spare procedural vibe. But in the end all these comparisons are, yes, odious because Winter has created something more than a facile feat of literary ventriloquism. He has written a truly affecting and suspenseful triple treat that transcends the formal gimmick at its heart. Agent: Chelsea Lindman, Nicholas Ellison Agency. (Aug.) Reviewed by J.I. Baker, who is the author of The Empty Glass, which Blue Rider Press will publish in July." – Publishers Weekly
“A pastiche of a legendary crime writer.” – Daily Express
“It's been 573 years since Johannes Gutenberg came up with movable type, so chances of a concept being truly original would seem slim. But Ariel S. Winter — a writer from Baltimore, has pulled it off.” – Detroit News