Hard Word Book Club Takes on THE TWENTY YEAR DEATH

Usually the Hard Word Book Club discusses short, punchy novels. Many times we read books under two hundred pages. Get ready for a work out this month, though, with The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel Winter, coming in at a little over six hundred pages.

In fact, the novel is three books in one; each reflects a classic author who was writing at his peak in the time period the story is set in. The first takes place in the 1930s with a French inspector- in the vein of George Simenon’s Maigret – who looks into the death of a prison inmate killed outside the prison. He becomes drawn to the victim’s daughter who is married to an American writer, Rozenkrantz. We then go to the 1940s in LA with a Raymond Chandler-style PI hired to protect a daughter who is now an actress. The third tale is a Jim Thompson-esque downward spiral of Rozenkrantz. By the end the sum of all three books creates a fourth novel.

The Twenty Year Death will provide a great discussion about style, genre, character, and the different authors Winter deftly imitates. We’ll be meeting up at 7PM on the third floor on January, Wednesday the 29th. The book is 10% off for those who attend. Next month, on February 26th, we’ll be discussing Jedidiah Ayres’ F*ckload Of Shorts.


My fellow MysteryPerson, Chris Mattix and I have been raving about Ariel S. Winter’s The Twenty Year Death for the last month. Winters gives us three books in one, each in the style of a crime fiction great, with his character of Shem Rozencrantz becoming more prominent in each book. While the novel can be thoroughly enjoyed on its own, familiarity with the work of the three authors Winter’s borrows from – George Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson – adds an extra dimension. Chris and I decided to suggest three titles from each writer that best reflect each book-within-a-book.

G E O R G E  S I M E N O N
(reflected in Malniveau Prison)

Friend Of Madame Maigret

Maigret is sent out of town to look into the murder of a criminal who boasted of his friendship with the inspector, even though Maigret never heard of him. Much like Ariel S. Winter’s Inspector Pelieter, Maigret has to navigate the local law to find the killer.


Bar On The Seine
Simenon once again takes Maigret out of Paris. Winters takes a cue from this book to make the town of Malniveau. Both places share a rich array of citizens each inspector questions.



Maigret and the Man On The Boulevard
Malniveau Prison’s existential tone seems to come from this one. Both victims wear clothing not their own and each bring up the question of identity.



R A Y M O N D  C H A N D L E R
(reflected in Falling Star)

The Little Sister

Without a doubt, Chandler’s skewering of the movie business was an influence on Winter’s Falling Star. Written after Chandler’s stint as a screenwriter, The Little Sister was the Get Shorty of its day.


The Lady In The Lake

The bad marriage of Ariel S. Winter’s Shem and his wife, Clotilde, is influenced by this book. They also share a look at damaged women.



The Long Goodbye

Shem Rosencrantz has a lot in common with both Marlowe’s friend Terry Lennox and alcoholic writer Roger Wade. Both Marlowe and Falling Star‘s Dennis Foster each pay a price for getting emotionally involved in a case.


J I M  T H O M P S O N
(reflected in Police At A Funeral)

Nothing More Than Murder

The plot of a murder cover up that leads to darker deed serves as a model for Police at a Funeral. They also share a less-than-alluring femme fatal.



The Killer Inside Me

Winter captures the mental breakdown of a man Thompson portrays in this chilling tale of a sheriff’s deputy who is also a psycho killer



Savage Night
It seems like every hooker, low rent gangster, and any other low fife in this book changed their name and moved over to Winter’s book.

After reading these books, you’ll develop an appreciation for these authors and for the way Winter’s captured their voices.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Ariel S. Winter

~post & Q&A by Chris M.

One of the perks of working for a store like BookPeople (aside from tons and tons of free books) is getting the opportunity to talk to the authors we love about their work. Recently I was given the honor of interviewing Ariel S. Winter, the author of one of 2012’s best mystery novels, The Twenty-Year Death. Keep reading to see what he had to say about his writing process, crime fiction, and his future plans.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: I’m sure people have been asking you this constantly, but what made you decide to write The Twenty-Year Death in the style of three master crime writers?

AW: The seed that became The Twenty-Year Death started as a novella in a larger novel. In that novel, the frame narrative was about an introspective reader reading through stacks of books. As he read, the book he was reading was presented in full, and the first of those books I wrote was Malniveau Prison a Georges Simenon pastiche. So in the context of that book, it was supposed to be as if the main character was actually reading Simenon. Once I abandoned that book, I wanted to do something with Malniveau Prison, so I started by expanding it into a full length book on its own. But at the same time, I began to ask myself what a mystery series would look like if a character other than the detective travelled from book to book. There are many ways to approach that idea, but since I had a Simenon on hand, I followed through with the thought, what would happen if one of Simenon’s characters wound up in a Chandler novel? Then in a Thompson novel?

MP: You do such an admirable job emulating the masters, was there one style that you enjoyed writing over the others?

AW: The challenge of writing in another author’s voice while still making it your own is fun regardless of which author you’re working on, so I wouldn’t say I preferred one to another. Chandler was probably the most intimidating.

MP: I’ll be honest, Shem is kind of an asshole throughout the book, but in the end I found myself rooting for him. Do you think he truly got what he deserved, or did he get off easy?

AW: He definitely didn’t get off easy. No matter how boorish, alcoholic, and womanizing you are, nobody really deserves what Shem goes through at the end. I feel sorry for him, but I know I’m in the minority. He had flaws that he allowed to control him, and they dragged him down emotionally, personally, and professionally. Nowadays, he would have ended up on a mood stabilizer and so much of his pain would have been avoided.

MP: The novel is quite broad in scope; did you have a difficult time getting started?

AW: It helped that I had a third of it written before I decided on the final structure. When you have a full book sitting there, it takes some of the pressure off, because, if this new plan falls through (as the first one did), you still have this good book sitting there (like the first time). Once I did decide on writing the second two books, I remember knowing it was ambitious, but never doubting I could do it. My biggest concern was whether or not the through characters’ story would feel like its own book that justified the whole conceit. I still worry about that sometimes.

MP: The Twenty-Year Death is out via Hard Case Crime. How does it feel to be working with such a classic publisher?

AW: When I was writing the book, I knew it should be a Hard Case book. I told my agent right up front that Hard Case was the place for it. No one else could have edited it as well as Charles Ardai, and no one else could have gotten it the attention it has received. Stephen King blurb? I wouldn’t have that somewhere else. Hard Case has done their all, and I couldn’t be happier.

MP: This might seem like an obvious question, but I have to ask; what’s your next move as a writer?

AW: I’m rewriting an older novel about a family coming together for the eldest daughter’s engagement party only six weeks after the parents have announced their divorce. It isn’t a mystery, but that doesn’t mean I’m done writing mysteries. It just means a mystery isn’t the next thing I’ll be doing. As you may know, I also released a children’s picture book this year called One of a Kind, and I have several other picture book scripts that I’m hoping to sell in the near future as well.

Many thanks to Ariel S. Winter and his publicist for taking the time to do this interview. Be sure to grab a copy of The Twenty-Year Death at Book People!

MysteryPeople Review: THE TWENTY YEAR DEATH by Ariel S. Winter

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.

Copies of The Twenty Year Death are available on the shelves at BookPeople and on our website.