I picked this book up on a whim when it first came out in 2012. I didn’t even read the description; I knew I’d like it based solely on the cover artwork (never let anyone tell you not to judge a book by its cover). Of course, when I got home and sat down to read it, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. By the time I’d tore through half the book, I still didn’t know – until I finally read the synopsis.
The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter is a single novel that is divided into three separate novels; each novel takes places ten years after the previous one, starting in 1931 with the first sub-novel, The Malniveau Prison and proceeding with The Falling Star and finally Police at the Funeral. Each novel is written in the style of one of the big three classic crime writers; Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson, respectively, and while each story has its own main character, each crime loosely involves two recurring characters; Shem Rosenkrantz, a famous American author who drinks heavily and philanders incessantly, and his skittish and vulnerable French actress wife, Coltilde Rosenkrantz.
If you’re not intrigued yet, you should be.
Winter, in what is his debut novel, executes his story like a master of the genre; he tightly spins a gritty tale that is rich with witty investigators, junkie drag queens, maniacal serial killers, violent crime bosses, and manipulative prostitutes, among other shady characters who Winter renders in bold, exciting colors. The Twenty-Year Death neatly contains all the reasons I love vintage crime novels, and the author pulls no punches.
Winter’s foray into the noir subgenre in the third sub-novel, Police at the Funeral, is equally delightful. Reading it, which I did in one sitting, is like watching a slow and horrific train-wreck that is both poignant and riveting. It ends perhaps how you are expecting it to the entire time, but with an exciting final flare.
What became clear to me by the end of the novel is how each sub-novel seemed to revolve not only around the crimes that were being committed and the clues our investigators were finding, but around Clotilde Rosenkrantz. In retrospect, each book was about her, although she makes only occasional appearances throughout. The efforts and actions of all our protagonists (even if The Police at the Funeral main character cannot be considered a ‘protagonist’) are geared toward the well-being of the unwittingly charming Clotilde. She is not a strong woman; she is deeply frightened, weakly permissive of her husband’s behavior, and has a French accent to boot. She is highly attractive to everyone who meets her. She is a delicate flower, and worthy of the efforts exhibited by the men around her.
I highly recommend you pick up this book. You will not be disappointed – 5/5 stars!