The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Shem Rosenkrantz and his French wife Clothilde's lives turn toxic over the course of two decades.
I owned this gerbil masher since it came out but couldn't bring myself to read it until the kindle edition went on sale for ninety nine cents.
The Twenty Year Death is three interlinked novellas, each written in the voice of a past master. Malniveau Prison is written in the style of Georges Simenon. The Falling Star is written in the style of Raymond Chandler. Police at the Funeral is written in the style of Jim Thompson.
I've never read any Georges Simenon so I can't really say whether or not Malniveau Prison feels like one of his works. It's a locked room mystery of sorts with a convict found dead on the street. Clothilde is in her late teens and her husband is well on his way down the path of douchebaggery. The case itself was entertaining in an old school mystery kind of way but nothing remarkable. It's only been a couple days but I've already forgotten the names of the lead detectives.
By the time The Falling Star begins, Cholthilde is now Chloe Rose, a Hollywood starlet, and her husband is an even bigger asshat than before. A Marloweesque detective named Dennis Foster is hired to find the guy stalking her and stumbles upon the scenes of multiple murders. This story felt like a Marlowe homage but only because it features the wise-cracking detective that Raymond Chandler popularized and has been imitated quite a bit over the last eighty years or so. Unlike Chandler's work, however, there aren't quotable similes on every page and it lacks Marlowe's world-weariness. It felt like a retread of a much better work.
Police at the Funeral sees Shem Rosenkrantz at his lowest point, drunk, penniless, and living with a lady of questionable morals named Vee. He's in Maryland for his first wife's funeral when someone accidentally dies and Shem goes into a gin-filled Thompson-style spiral into madness. I could tell this was supposed to feel like a Thompson book since it features a drunken loser going off the rails but didn't have that undercurrent of insanity from the beginning that the better Jim Thompson books have.
I had high hopes for this. It did not meet them. It's touted as some great work of literature, told in the voices of three masters. I can't speak from the Simenon but the Chandler and Thompson pastiches are without soul, without the spark that made the original works great. It's pretty much a collection of pastiches linked by an asshole character who doesn't take center stage until the end.
Tfitoby got the bullet in the right chamber when he said "Reads like a literature student who thought it would be easy to write a genre novel after reading a few works by great authors with readily identifiable styles" This things screams style over substance. Instead of a fitting tribute to the masters, it's more like a ventriloquism act where you catch the guy's lips moving. Two out of five stars.
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