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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Twenty-Year Death
The conceit is eye-catching: a mystery novel made up of three different mystery novels, each set in a different decade (1931, 1941, 1951) and written in the style of a different mystery novelist (Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson), with the whole becoming something greater than the sum of its parts. So does Ariel Winter's THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH live up to its...
Published on July 28, 2012 by Brendan Moody

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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An echo is an echo, etc.
I wanted to like this three-act crime novel that was reviewed favorably enough in The Washington Post to make it sound like an old school classic; interesting enough to buy it, which is what I did. Sorry to say that it didn't fully meet expectations, although author Ariel Winter comes off as a competent enough writer.

"In the style of" writing ultimately...
Published on August 20, 2012 by Blue in Washington


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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An echo is an echo, etc., August 20, 2012
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This review is from: The Twenty-Year Death (Hard Case Crime) (Hardcover)
I wanted to like this three-act crime novel that was reviewed favorably enough in The Washington Post to make it sound like an old school classic; interesting enough to buy it, which is what I did. Sorry to say that it didn't fully meet expectations, although author Ariel Winter comes off as a competent enough writer.

"In the style of" writing ultimately doesn't often deliver the same punch as an original in any art form, and that includes literature in all its variations. Each of the three novelettes in "The Twenty-Year..." has some good moments, but overall, it somehow it lacked plot and character vitality. I also found that the connection between them wasn't particularly convincing. That commonality was supposed to be in the person of a Frenchwoman whose life moves from tragedy to tragedy. Somehow though, the character never fully materializes, or least not enough to make the transitions believable.

Ariel Winter seems capable of producing a good, original book in his own style and I hope that he will.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Twenty-Year Death, July 28, 2012
This review is from: The Twenty-Year Death (Hard Case Crime) (Hardcover)
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The conceit is eye-catching: a mystery novel made up of three different mystery novels, each set in a different decade (1931, 1941, 1951) and written in the style of a different mystery novelist (Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson), with the whole becoming something greater than the sum of its parts. So does Ariel Winter's THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH live up to its ambitions? Yes and no. Not being an expert in the styles of Simenon, Chandler, and Thompson, I can't speak to how well he imitates them, but the three novels reliably capture the feel of three different types of mid-century mystery fiction, with an overall air of laconic pessimism that links them. Unfortunately, it's in the other aspects of the link that THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH falls a little short. The thematic notion at the heart of the novel is undermined by the nature of a key character, so apart from the narrative pleasure of seeing what connects the three mysteries, there isn't a lot of cumulative effect. Explaining why will require revealing the basic notion of each novel and spoiling that narrative pleasure, so readers wanting to know as little as possible are advised to stop here.

We begin with MALNIVEAU PRISON, in which a French police inspector's visit to the titular locale is complicated by a baffling murder linked to the prison. Where has the warden gone? Does Mahossier, the mocking, sadistic child murderer Chief Inspector Pelleter had originally come to visit, know something? Are the two boys from town who seem to have disappeared connected to the murder in any way? And what about the dead man's daughter, Clothilde-ma-Fleur Rosenkrantz, who lives in town with her husband, the American writer Shem Rosenkrantz? Like many a classical detective, Pelleter will find the answers methodically, without losing his cool, except when confronted with the bleakness of the criminal world, especially as personified by the brilliantly manipulative Mahossier. The third-person prose here is simple, starkly descriptive, at times almost bland in its straightforwardness, but not without an eye for how atmosphere can be conveyed in a few suggestive details.

THE FALLING STAR switches to first-person narration, by Dennis Foster, a hard-edged private eye who knows the score but can't keep from trying to do the right thing. You know the type. The job he's been hired for is a simple one, more a matter of appearances than investigation. A Hollywood leading lady is convinced she's being stalked, and to keep Chloe Rose happy during production on her latest film the studio is willing to play along with what it thinks is just celebrity neurosis. But when a dead body turns up, things start to look a little different. Foster is already off the case by then, but he's in too deep to let go, especially after the film's leading man comes to him with a problem that's unconnected to Chloe Rose-- or is it? And what about the fact that Chloe Rose's real name is Clothilde-ma-Fleur Rosenkrantz? Foster's voice is what you would expect, sardonic and more than a little bitter: "I thought of something smart to say to that, but then I remembered I wasn't smart, so I just turned up the stairs." His world, in which crime is routinely covered up to benefit Hollywood moguls and the gangsters with whom they do various kinds of business, is as grim in its way as the unyielding walls of Malniveau Prison.

And equally grim is the situation in which Shem Rosenkrantz, now narrator and protagonist after two supporting turns, find himself in POLICE AT THE FUNERAL. In the aftermath of her Hollywood career, Clothilde is in rough shape and requires quite a bit of money, but Shem's writing career has dried up and he's broke. An invitation to the reading of his ex-wife's will has him hoping for an inheritance, but when things don't go as expected there, Shem is drawn unwillingly into a world of callous deceit and casual violence. Will he escape with his life? Does he even deserve to? Shem's narration lacks the understated atmosphere of the first novel and the wry cynicism of the second, but the unflinchingly realistic rendering of his alcoholic self-pity and the lengths it drives him to completes the triptych of hard-boiled crime nicely by putting the reader inside the mind of a man capable of terrible things.

So each of the three novels works reasonably well as an individual pastiche, though the brevity of each (less than 250 pages) means that none of the mysteries are that complex, and some elements seem to have been added simply to disguise the simplicity and bring the narrative to an appropriate length. But how well do they fit together? There's no real overarching plot, so the combined effect depends on theme and character. The intention, as I gather from the cover copy, is to show how proximity to all this crime has profoundly damaged Shem, creating a reflection on the consequences of crime larger than those offered by each book unto itself. The trouble is that Shem is never a particularly likable figure; readers familiar with Jim Thompson's usual protagonists will understand what kind of man he is. Although he's shown in POLICE AT THE FUNERAL ruminating on the horrible effects MALNIVEAU PRISON and THE FALLING STAR had on him, that feels more like a criminal's self-justification than a genuine character progression. It doesn't help that Shem is barely seen in those first two books, and hardly ever in a flattering light. Writing morally ambiguous tragic figures is tricky, and I don't think Winter has fully succeeded here. Clothilde is more sympathetic and more tragic, but she's seen even less than Shem, and doesn't have enough presence to make the three novels a fully cohesive whole. As three books with a retro feel, a common outlook, and loose narrative links, THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH, is a great success. As one novel with epic ambitions, it doesn't quite gel. But fans of classic crime will want to give it a whirl either way.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Been Waiting For This One..., July 29, 2012
This review is from: The Twenty-Year Death (Hard Case Crime) (Hardcover)
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Ever since THE TWENTY YEAR DEATH was announced, I've eagerly awaited it. The idea of a novel spanning twenty years, actually three different crime novels written in the style of an author prominent during the time each book was set, intrigued me. The overall story is of an author in which tragedy strikes everyone around him as his life disintegrates.

MALNIVEAU PRISON is set in 1931 and concerns a French police inspector come to a small town to see a killer he put away years before. He gets involved when a body is found stabbed to death in the streets during a terrific thunderstorm. When, it's identified, it turns out to be a man supposedly in the prison for life. Records say he'd been transferred to another prison. The man's daughter lives in the small town, married to an older man, an American novelist working on his next book.

THE FALLING STAR is in 1941 Southern California. A private eye named Dennis Foster is hired by one of his ex-cop buddies to babysit a French actress who thinks someone is following her. The studio wants the picture finished without trouble and the actress's alcoholic husband, a former novelist who seems to have lost his touch, unable to even produce film screenplays anymore and living off his wife. When a young starlet the writer is seeing on the side is murdered, there may be more to the actress's story than most believed.

POLICE AT THE FUNERAL. It's 1951 and the writer, Shem Rosenkrantz, takes center stage in this one. His French wife has been in a private sanitarium for years and the money has run out. He's back East for the reading of the will of his first wife, from a well-to-do family, and the now grown son from that marriage wants nothing to do with him. He;s living with a young woman who he's pimped out to a big criminal, though he doesn't think of it in that light. He owes everybody and hopes his ex-wife left him something to continue the private sanitarium's payments.

Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson are the three crime writers. I just recently got reacquainted with Simenon's work, love Chandler, and am the least familiar with Thompson's style(only read one novel by him and that was a tie-in), But the author here did a fine job on these three books(one can certainly read any of them separately and not get lost) and I look forward to his next book, anxious to see his style.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars You like the trailer...go watch the movie!, October 27, 2012
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Oliver Twist (Southern California) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Twenty-Year Death (Hard Case Crime) (Hardcover)
"I'm a patsy for a good book. When I see a shiny new tome on the Library shelf, glossy painted jacket like a pulp classic, big enough to stand in for two bricks in my driveway, and a blurb by ace Stephen King on the front cover, I'm takin' it home."
Does that sound like Raymond Chandler? No way! Ariel S. Winter does it much better than me. His debut effort, "The Twenty-Year Death", is a 670 page collection of three hard boiled crime novels, and a homage to Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson.
The first story, 'Malniveau Prison', in the style of Simenon, is an intriguing tale set in a small, sleepy French village, the site of a notorious prison filled with hard core criminals, where Chief Inspector Pelleter has arrived to interview one of the more famous convicts. The prisoner, Mahossier, is reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter in 'Silence of the Lambs', and unquestionably the most interesting character in this entire collection. (Alas, he plays only a peripheral part.) Chief Inspector Pelleter is a compelling character and it is a pleasure to follow him through the story as he recruits a local rookie cop to become his assistant in his quest to solve the mystery of why certain prisoners are disappearing. Unfortunately the plot, when finally revealed, turns out to be somewhat trite and unsatisfactory.
The second story, 'The Falling Star', in the style of Chandler, is set in Los Angeles. Dennis Foster, ex-PD and now private eye, is hired by a movie studio to babysit one of their stars, who thinks she is being stalked. All is not what it seems here, but to say much more would be a spoiler. The style of writing in this section captures some of the crisp, wry humor of Chandler's narrative, but without his inventive metaphor, leaving only a ghostly similarity to one of his short stories.
The third story, 'Police at the Funeral', in the style of Jim Thompson, is set in Maryland, a first person narrative by author Shem Rosenkrantz, booze-addled and of questionable repute, now thoroughly broke and gone to seed, whose last hope is to be left some money in the will of his ex-wife. Unfortunately the entire two million dollars goes to his estranged son, but there is a clause that might leave it to Shem, and this leads to a rather predictable plot which is only somewhat rescued at the end by an unexpected twist. Between the beginning and the end we have to put up with a lot of paranoid drivel from Shem the narrator, as his mind gradually slips into the gutter, and it just makes you want to slap him out of it.
The three stories are connected only in so far as they have certain characters in common. They are not dependent on each other, and could stand alone, although I would advise reading them in the order they are presented because of the timeline. I'm not familiar enough with Georges Simenon or Jim Thompson to comment on the style of those sections, although the author seems to have done a good job as Raymond Chandler, although missing some of the brilliance of his prose. The ploy of imitating a well known author actually adds a favorable hook for the reader; as I read I found myself playing with some of the dialogue and descriptions to see if I could make things sound even more authentic.
In summary, this book may be a tribute to three past giants of the hard boiled mystery genre, but none of the stories comes up to the best works of any of those authors, so you might as well buy one of the originals. Ariel Winter writes well, but maybe he doesn't think he can sell a book in his own voice. We'll never know.
I'll end with a quote from Dennis Foster from 'The Falling Star'.
"...everyone looked up when I came in to make sure I wasn't someone important. I wasn't."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Three Top Notch Novels, January 30, 2014
This review is from: The Twenty-Year Death (Hard Case Crime) (Hardcover)
Don't confuse Ariel Winter with a sixteen-year-old actress of the same name (minus the middle initial). They are simply not the same person. Twenty-Year Death is Ariel S. Winter's first crime fiction publication. He has previously published a children's book. It is, in effect, three separate books linked by a common character. Indeed, Winter plans on publishing the three books separately later this year (2014). I recommend, however, reading them as the author intended: together.

The three separate books (Malniveau Prison, The Falling Star, and Police at the Funeral) are, in some sense, pastiches or mimics of the styles of famous crime authors of different time periods in the twentieth century: Malniveau Prison is in the style of Georges Simenon. The Falling Star is in the style of Raymond Chandler and Police at the Funeral is in the style of Jim Thompson. But, simply saying that they are in the style of or that they are pastiches of these famous authors does not do these books justice. Rather, than simply being copies of the work of the famous authors, it is perhaps more appropriate to view each as being imbued with the atmosphere of such authors and evocative of a certain period of crime fiction writing.

Better yet, just read these three linked stories for the great stories that they are without bothering to compare them to the crime fiction writing of such great authors. These stories stand on their own. They do not need to be compared to anyone else's work.

The Twenty Year Death is listed as a 700-page book which sounds absolutely staggering in and of itself. However, it is merely three normal-length books (200+ pages each) and, at that, very quick reading. Without even trying to rush through it, I found that it took only two or three days to read it and, at that, had I been relaxing on vacation, I found it so engrossing that I would have read it straight through without stopping.

Malniveau Prison takes place in a town in France, Veragent. I always pictured the town in the south of France, but Winter makes clear that you can't find the town on a map. He made it up. There's a prison near this small town and a French inspector has shown up to interview a sick, demented prisoner who is sort of like a Hannibal Lector being interviewed by Clarisse. This prisoner is surprisingly smart, sophisticated, and has very useful information. The pace of the book is deliberately set in this small out of the way town where time seems to move slowly, but somehow the book is fascinating. A body shows up when a baker comes out to the street to see why his basement is being flooded. Supposedly, inmates are being stabbed in the prison. Two young boys disappear and the townsfolk spread out looking for them. Inch by inch, the inspector dutifully puts the clues together and figures out what is going on. In the midst of it, the inspector has some difficulties with an American writer, Shem Rosenkrantz and his French wife, Clothide-ma Fleur, whose father was the man found by the baker in the gutter. Outwardly, the story evokes the slow, tortured mysteries common before the noir era, but I found this story to be excellent.

After Malniveau Prison, I wanted to continue reading about the French Inspector and how he solves mysterious crimes. But, alas, that was not to be. The second novel in the Twenty Year Death takes the reader all the way to Hollywood where the American writer Rosenkrantz and his wife Clothide, who is now known as the famous actress, Chloe Rose, are ensconsed. They are not at the center of this story as in the first book. Instead, enter a hard-boiled Phillip Marlowe type private eye who is hired to watch over Chloe, who everyone thinks is some nutty dame. This story is typical of the forties and fifties private eye novels who knows everyone but operates on his own. Mobsters, studio executives, and the police all warn this private eye, Dennis Foster, off the case, but as the bodies keep turning up, Foster soldiers on, trying to figure out who is playing him for a patsy. Again, a very enjoyable private eye story taking place in Hollywood, although Winter calls it San Angeles rather than Los Angeles to allow himself room for literary invention.

The third novel, Police at the Funeral, for the first time centers around Shem Rosenkrantz, who has been dying bit by bit for twenty years. Chloe is in the nuthouse and Rosenkrantz has taken up with a sharp dame who is only with him because he is due to come into some money. This book is not really a take off on Jim Thompson except to the extent that its focus is this tortured, drowning character. This book takes the reader on a journey into despair and, as the reader, listening to this narrator, you wonder if he is really as innocent as he makes himself out to be or is he just justifying himself and his actions to the readers.

All three books stand as terrific works in their own right. Amazingly, Winter has managed to write in three different styles. In reading this, ignore the idea that Winter borrowed from any other writer because he didn't except as far as borrowing the atmosphere from their eras. This was really enjoyable reading and it will be interesting to see if Winter has anything else up his sleeve.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It accomplishes what it sets out to do., March 27, 2013
This review is from: The Twenty-Year Death (Hard Case Crime) (Hardcover)
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Ariel Winter set out to imitate 3 different crime novelists in three interlocking stories involving the same couple in various ways. In the first book, the couple are minor characters in a Georges Simenon type story about French prisoners being found murdered outside their prison. The wife is the daughter of one of the victims and the husband is a famous writer and an aggressive drunk. In the second part - the Raymond Chandler part - the wife has become a Hollywood starlet and the detective is hired to shadow her which quickly turns into a murder mystery and conspiracy involving many players. By the third part, the wife is in a mental hospital and the husband is a loser drunk trying to scrape money together in a Jim Thompson homage.

I had never read Georges Simenon, so I was giving the book the benefit of the doubt at first. However, the Raymond Chandler part points to the weakness of the endeavor since everyone copies Raymond Chandler. Max Allan Collins makes a career out of imitating Raymond Chandler. Knowing Raymond Chandler means knowing pretty much where the twists are coming and having a rough idea of who is ultimately behind everything.

It's only in the last third where the weakness of the book comes forth. While, Ariel Winter is technically capable of imitating Jim Thompson's standard narrative involving a weak drunk and a rising paranoia, Thompson is effective because he forces the readers to relate to the loser drunks that are in the center of a maelstrom that is only partially of their own making. The character of Shem Rosenkrantz who was an obnoxious drunk in the first part and a loser drunk in the second part has not improved in the third part when he becomes the focal point. He is just a loser. No matter how many tricks Winter employes to ramp up the tension, the major focus is both boring and unlikeable. You can't relate to him and he's not fascinating. If you don't care what happens to him, then he's just going through the motions.

So even though Ariel Winter has succeeded in imitating these great crime novelists, that's really all he's accomplished. While that may be good for some afternoon reading, it's still nothing special.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great literary-noir fix, March 5, 2013
This review is from: The Twenty-Year Death (Hard Case Crime) (Hardcover)
I will leave the plot synopsis stuff to others, as it's already been fleshed out.
I'm a little over halfway through the book now, and totally digging it.
Some thoughts on THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH:
1. I really wanted to hate this book, given the audacity of what the author was trying to do & given how sometimes people mistake length (oh my gosh, it's such a big book!) with quality. But rather, I love it.
2. I'm coming at this book without being too steeped in crime/noir lit. So the beauty of that is I can read it without prejudice. If Winter has aped certain writers, well, I know enough to know that he injected himself in it. They're influences, but it's not strict by-the-book imitation. His authorial presence is right there.
3. I keep reading about people complaining about Part 3 (or Book 3), and that's another reason for me to applaud Winter -- YES. Go against the grain. Must every hero (or anti-hero)be likable? Sometimes the biggest, depraved jerks in literature are more fascinating than the aw-shux pals. Shem is no Jimmy Stewart and that's great! Just the fact that Winter closes the big book with THIS character as the focus is a balls-y move.

Having read a whole slew of Hard Case Crime books (which I will continue to do), this one sits right up there with the rest of 'em. I applaud Charles Ardai for putting this book out, and for his *spirit* of pursuing this enterprise. He's a quiet guy with guts, and the world needs more like this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A unique three-in-one pulp fiction crime saga., December 28, 2012
This review is from: The Twenty-Year Death (Hard Case Crime) (Hardcover)
A unique three-in-one pulp fiction crime saga.

About: This is three separate murder mystery stories in one book - each story set ten years apart; each featuring the same two characters, which binds the stories together; with each story written in a different style, mimicking three classic crime writers (Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson).

Clotilde Rosenkratz seemed to be destined for success and for a time was on the verge of becoming a big Hollywood star - though for public consumption her name was changed to Chloe Rose. Her husband Shem was a writer, once acclaimed but slipping inexorably downwards, his situation not helped by being an alcoholic.

Malniveau Prison - In 1931 Clotilde and Shem are living in a small town in France, when a body is found in a gutter. The investigating detective eventually finds out that the body is that of Clotilde's father. What is unusual is that the man is supposedly locked up in a local prison, and no escapes have been reported.

The Falling Star - In 1941 Clotilde/Chloe is co-starring in a Hollywood movie, but she is nervous and convinced that someone is following her. When a hardboiled private eye is hired to investigate, things quickly become complicated and brutal murders ensue.

Police at the Funeral - In 1951 Shem has hit rock bottom, and is desperate to somehow claw his way back upwards. The death of his first wife seems to present some sort of opportunity, but he soon finds himself with blood on his hands and suspicious police investigating him. Meanwhile, Clotilde's bleak situation is becoming even bleaker.

John's thoughts: I think that this is a clever idea which the author executes well. Considering that it's his first novel you have to admire his chutzpah for shooting for such an ambitious plot(s). The three stories are stylistically very different, and while I've not ready anything by any of the three influential writers (Simenon, Chandler and Thompson), others have given Winter high marks for his ability to channel their style and tone.

Did I enjoy the read and would you? That seems highly dependent on whether or not you enjoy the three original authors and their respective styles. I'd give a thumbs up to the first story, thought the second one was pretty good, and found the third to be a bit so-so. The main problem for me with the final story was that Shem Rosenkratz (the central character) is a total jerk - I always have a hard time with novels and genres that have distinctly unlikeable people as the "heroes". I resonated a lot more with the main characters in the first two stories and consequently enjoyed them more.

Overall the novel is fast-paced and easy to read; the book actually has over 650 pages but it certainly didn't feel like it. But I think, a saga like this calls for a strong ending and I wasn't crazy about how the final story wound up. So, on balance I'd rate the book 3 stars and would recommend it to anyone who likes pulp crime fiction and/or usage of unusual literary techniques.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars THE TWENTY-YEAR READ!, December 24, 2012
This review is from: The Twenty-Year Death (Hard Case Crime) (Hardcover)
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This is a massive book! Weighing in it at 700 pages and containing 3 mystery novelettes each set in a different decade(early 1930's to early 1950's). It took me a LONG time to read this book. Most of that reason is because I got bogged down with the narrative and uninteresting characters. This was supposed to be written in the sytle of Raymond Chandler, Georges Simenon, and Jim Thompson, but, quite frankly it's not. At least from my view of Chandler and Thompson. I've never read Simenon, so I can't speak for his style. I've read lots of Chandler and Thompson and these stories are a pale imitation. Now, don't get me wrong. This isn't a terrible novel and you can get through it, however, there are large portion of it that are uninteresting to the point of being boring. The feel of the time period is there, it just doesn't have that visceral punch that Thompson and Chandler could hit you with out of nowhere.

There's a reason why Chandler and Thompson are alltime great mystery novelists and trying to imitate them is no small feat. So, I applaud Winter for the attempt, even if he missed the mark. One of the three stories, The Falling Star, is supposed to emulate the style of Ray Chandler and it probably comes closest to doing so of the three stories, and was my favorite of the stories. I can't say as though I recommend anyone reading this, unless you have no other classic noir mystery novels on your shelf to be read. You would be better served whipping out those Thompson and Chandler story collections and rereading them.... or read them for the first time! Maybe even some stories by the highly underrated Gil Brewer. To put it bluntly and plainly, The Twenty-Year Death, is the poorman's mystery novel(s) and Chandler and Thompson's body of work is the literary equivalent of a pirate's sunken treasure waiting to be found.....
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ho-Hum, September 12, 2012
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Not bad, not terrific, just kind of ho-hum. I kept going with all three just to see how it all shook out. Nothing like damning with faint praise!
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The Twenty-Year Death (Hard Case Crime)
The Twenty-Year Death (Hard Case Crime) by Ariel S. Winter (Hardcover - August 7, 2012)
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