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It is often said: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Ariel S. Winter’s “The Twenty-Year Death” is a fawning tribute to three of the greatest crime writers of the 20th century all wrapped in Hard Case Crime’s first hardcover book.
“Death” consists of three novellas - “Malniveau Prison,” “The Falling Star,” and “Police at the Funeral” - that span a twenty-year timeline from 1931 to 1951. Each story is told in the style of a prominent writer from the decade: Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson.
“Malniveau Prison” borrows heavily from Simenon’s popular detective, Jules Maigret. A dead body in a sleep French village has police puzzled since the corpse is supposed to be locked up at the nearby prison. Several more bodies pop up, and the beautiful Clotilde-ma-Fleur, the wife of successful American author Shem Rosenkrantz, is missing. It’s a beautifully written psychological thriller.
Jumped ahead ten years to Hollywood, California. In “The Falling Star” private detective Dennis Foster is hired by a big studio to keep an eye on French starlet Chloe Rose, real name Clotilde-ma-Fleur, who is convinced that someone is stalking her. Her alcoholic husband had slipped from the pantheon of great authors and is now writing screenplays for the studio. A simple tail job turns into a hunt for a serial killer in classic Chandler style.
In “Police at the Funeral” Shem Rosenkrantz is scraping the bottom of the barrel. It’s 1951. He hasn’t written a word much less a book in years, he washed up in Hollywood, and his wife is a permanent resident of a private clinic. And he’s a full-fledged drunk. A family dispute turns into murder and things just get worse from there. Jim Thompson’s disaster-leads to-more-disaster style is prevalent, even if it lacks his distinct Oklahoma voice.
It’s an ambitious book, certainly innovative, and absolutely entertaining.