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The Twenty-Year Death

Ariel S. Winter
In Print
Hard Case Crime (2012)

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This entry created 29 March 2018. Last revised on 29 March 2018.

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The Twenty-Year Death
Rating: gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star no star no star no star (7.00)

608 pages.

As the back cover proclaims:

There's never been a book like this one: 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.

Yes, it's an amazing accomplishment, and how the component novels are 'fastened together' is quite interesting.

The lead-off novel, Malniveau Prison, is set in 1931 France, and written in the style of Georges Simenon (creator of the fictional detective Jules Maigret). Chief Inspector Pelleter is in town because a sinister child molester he sent to prison has a tip for him. Coincidentally, a man is found dead in the streets during a heavy storm – and he's supposed to be in prison! The trail leads to the victim's beautiful, estranged daughter and her hot-tempered American husband.

The second novel, The Falling Star, is set in 1941 Hollywood. The American from the first novel, a writer, has found work in the movie industry; his beautiful wife has become a star, but she thinks someone is stalking her. The movie studio brings in a detective, and this novel is written in the style of Raymond Chandler, arguably the founder of the 'hard-boiled' school of detective fiction. The complicated plot also involves movie studio bosses, drugs, sex, corruption, and gambling!

The third novel, Police at the Funeral, is set in 1951 Maryland. It is told in first person, Jim Thompson style. The American of the first novel is now a washed-up writer, come home in hope of receiving something at the reading of a will. His wife's medical bills depend on him, but a lifetime's accumulation of character flaws and weaknesses are dragging him down.

So we've got two detective novels and a crime novel, in completely different styles, and while each novel is complete on its own, the third novel adds background that enriches the first two novels.

And that's a bit of the problem. While I'm sure it impresses mystery aficionados (of which I am one!), the series is best appreciated only if you are a fan of all three styles of writing, and if you want to read two detective novels followed by a crime novel about a self-destructive, unlovable, washed-up writer. While I admire the author's accomplishment, and I marvel at how well he imitates three quite different styles, I found that I didn't get into the first novel (a quick series of events leading to a self-solving conclusion), liked the second novel much better (who doesn't like hard-boiled detectives or corrupt Hollywood), and disliked the voyage of self-destruction which is the third novel (well written though it is).

So I hesitantly recommend this novel on the basis of the quality writing and the scope of the project, even though I didn't find all of it to my liking.

Pulp and mystery gamers will find useful ideas and interesting characters here, but there are no fights that you would stage on a tabletop.

Note that while the entire book is available in print, if you prefer digital formats, you can buy the entire book or just the component novels.

Reviewed by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian.