Book: The Twenty Year Death by Ariel S. Winter
Reviewed by: Chris Mattix
Most writers have enough trouble coming up with a solid idea for a first novel that they tend to keep things simple. Most writers are not Ariel S. Winter. A newcomer to the world of crime fiction, Winter has managed to deliver a debut novel that is both broad in scope and painfully simple in message.
As an avid reader of modern and vintage crime fiction I will admit to being a bit skeptical when I read the press release for The Twenty-Year Death, Winter’s first novel for powerhouse publisher Hard Case Crime. The initial press for The Twenty-Year Death heralds it as a masterwork of storytelling that rivals the best crime writing of this or any age, but press releases are designed to do one thing and one thing only, sell books; and all the glowing reviews in the world couldn’t scare away my hesitation.
In The Twenty-Year Death Winter breaks his tale into three separate novels, each taking on the voice of a different master of the genre. The first novel, Malniveau Prison, is done in the style of ’20s writer Georges Simenon, the second, The Falling Star, in the voice on Raymond Chandler, and the third, Police at the Funeral, in the style of Jim Thompson. Winter’s writing is something of a marvel as he is able to capture the essence of the masters he emulates, while also offering a refreshing spin on their styles. If you’ve read anything by any one of those writers you will get a little more out of The Twenty-Year Death, but there really aren’t any prerequisites for cracking into this gem.
Each novel is both uniquely different from and crucial to the overarching plot of the book as a whole. In each novel we are introduced to new protagonists who narrate the story from their own perspective, and each novel satisfies the universal craving for murder and villainy found in fans of the genre. Mainiveau Prison begins with the discovery of a local baker found dead in the streets of a quiet French village, The Falling Star focuses on the brutal murder of a Hollywood starlet, and Police at the Funeral, in true Jim Thompson fashion, deals with the inner dialogue of the man who committed the murder.
While each novel is successful as a standalone story, the really amazing thing about The Twenty-Year Death is how Winter is able to weave them together to tell a single story about the deterioration of man. I’m trying my best not to give anything away, but let’s just say that there are a couple of characters who become more and more prevalent as The Twenty Year Death progresses. In the end this is a cautionary tale about the consequences of our actions, words, emotions, wants, and fears. It’s about the ease of making mistakes, and what those mistakes can drive us to do. I had an idea of the overall theme of The Twenty-Year Death when I began, but it wasn’t until I turned the final page that I truly understood what the title means.
I can’t begin to tell you have much fun I had reading The Twenty Year Death. It’s unlike any book I’ve read before and I am shocked at the skill Winter puts on display, especially considering this is his debut novel. I read a lot of crime fiction this year, but The Twenty Year Death is my hands-down favorite. It’s destined to become a classic, and you have absolutely no excuse for ignoring it. Yes it’s that good: believe the hype.