Sunday, September 9, 2012

Review: Ariel S. Winter's 'The Twenty Year Death'

 THE TWENTY YEAR DEATH comprises three novels, the first of which, 'Malniveau Prison' is a police procedural with a hint of the hardboiled. The second, 'Falling Star' is a formulaic, by-the-numbers hardboiled PI set amongst the glitz and glamour of the movie biz tainted with blood and lies. Rounding out the trio is 'Police At A Funeral' - an ode to noir which highlights the struggle of a fractured man with everything to gain and nothing to loose. The concept is refreshing and the execution exemplary. Ariel S. Winter does a great job at paying homage to multiple genres while creating something new and easily re-readable.

Below are reviews for each of the three complete novels in 'The Twenty Year Death':

On a stormy night, water flows frequent bringing chill and the depressing discovery of the departed into a French bakers life. A body found in the gutter not only floods his basement but also drowns his perception of reality in a watery mist of the unreal. The small town (with a distinct country, almost rural feel) is rocked by the disguised murder. Little did the inhabitants (and police force) know, that Meranger's death, would lead to a far darker and disturbing truth, one that unveils serial murder and deceit in an unlikely form.

While led by two senior police officers, there is a lone wolf aspect to 'Malniveau Prison' with Pelleter often acting on instinct and keeping local law informed when it suits him. This direction enabled the story to become semi detached from the typical police procedural while still maintaining the core elements. Accompanying the lead mystery are a number of other cases that present the police with added headaches, from neighbourhood disputes over pets, missing children, and a rather grisly discovery with all adding realism and providing depth to the day-to-day work undertaken by the undermanned outfit trying to keep the peace and contain the townsfolk hysteria.

There are some really interesting characters in this book with Mahossier (a child abductor currently serving his sentence at Malniveau and sometime police informant), Fournier (stand in warden and type cast Government official), Letreau (in change of the local police who always seems one step behind Pelleter), and Clotilde Rosenkrantz (a 19yr old wife to an American writer who finds herself in the thick of the murder investigation). Author Ariel S. Winter gives each of his characters enough backstory to maintain the illusion of depth and humanity against the crime driven plot and investigation.

'Malniveau Prision' was a very enjoyable opening to 'The Twenty Year Death'.

The second book, 'The Falling Star' is a hardboiled PI novel that oozes pulp and was a refreshing turn of events for 'The Twenty Year Death' following the police procedural driven 'Malniveau Prison'. I see a little of Megan Abbott's noir Hollywood in this with an investigative angle baring likeness to James Ellory. 'Falling Star' is just that - a popular Americanised French starlet, Chloe Rose, is given protection by the studio who fear for her safety and sanity. Enlisting Dennis Foster as shadow and body guard yields far different results than designed when co-stars and lovers of co-stars start turning up dead. This was a true-to-era whodunit with a likable protagonist and simplistic linear plot. I had hoped for some connection with 'Malniveau Prison' but wasn't disappointed by the strength of Winter's delivery and effortless free flowing storytelling.

The final installment in 'The Twenty Year Death' tells the story of Shem Rosencrantz, a has-been author turned accidental murder and the women who consume his thoughts and provoke his actions. His wife, the broken starlet Chloe Rose is living in an institution, his former wife is dead, his mistress Victoria - the hard boiled whore sleeps with anything who's likely to improve her cash flow, and his soon to be daughter in law who's grief is an outlet for taking advantage of - providing his will power falters. All these women play a key role in Shem's glorious fall from glitter to gutter.

Shem, broke, walked over by a pretty face, ignored by publishers, and lacking in friends, sees his family reduce by actions he cant be accounted for - wholeheartedly that is, is the epicentre for misery. After the will of his deceased wife is read, a window of possibility opens which stands to earn a big pay day providing his son and inheritor is out of the picture. Victoria plants the seed, Shem does the rest. Accidental murder soon leads to intent as the loose ends pile up matching a growing body count.

What starts in death ends in death. Ariel S. Winter has crafted an obliquely dynamic noir that's an ode to the greats and a testament of what's to come. I liked the flawed, fractured man that Shem was - a man who has risen, fallen, and comes to realise the only way out if facing those bright lights head on. The shortcomings aren't hidden, his central character isn't a thing of beauty but that's the allure. Coupled with a whore whose trick turning leads to unearthed facts distinctly similar to the current predicament and police on the hunt and you've got a melting pot of steaming backstory and smouldering murderous lust.

'Police At A Funeral' is just as good at the other books in the 'Twenty Year Death' - perhaps its the style, or the fact that it rounds out a characters' story so well that left such an impression that's sure to be lasting - either way, this was a hell of a read. The ending is one that cant be missed; true to the genre and one that exemplifies the dire situation Shem finds himself in. Beautifully written.

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