Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Read: "The Twenty-Year Death" by Ariel S. Winter

Read: The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter, 2012, 9780857689184.

I remember Charles Ardai talking this up before it came out but it took me a while to get to.  Three short novels written as one long novel and set, respectively, in 1931, 1941, and 1951.  Winter copied the style of Georges Simenon for '31, Raymond Chandler for '41, and Jim Thompson for '51. 

I enjoyed all three of the parts.  I have never read a Simenon novel but after this I really should grab one because I liked the story quite a bit.  It had that laid-back feel of Burnt Offering or Louis Penney.  The emphasis is on the investigator and the way he sees things and operates.  Working silently and thinking things out.  Not a collaborative person. 

Anyway.  '31 has a rural French town with a neighboring prison.  A prisoner is discovered dead in the gutter during a rainstorm but the prison's Deputy Warden says no way, we counted him as present.  Things happen.  The dead man has a daughter living in town.  The daughter is married to an older man, an American writer of some renown.  The writer is blustery and has a drinking problem.  He left his first wife for his current teen wife and when Dead Man's Daughter goes missing Writer goes apoplectic.

'41 has a Hollywood P.I. hired to follow a paranoid French actress.  French actress is the Daughter from the '31 story.  She is convinced someone is stalking her.  Writer is a drunk, working as a script writer, and openly screwing Daughter's co-star.  PI ends up following people and, in good PI fashion, sticks his nose where it is not needed and where his employer tells him to butt out.  (Sticks nose in?  Butt out?  Should I use those two together? Do I care?)  PI finds mutilated body of the co-star Writer was porking.  PI discovers there have been similarly mutilated actresses and Hollywood lizards. PI sees link among local gambling goon, Writer, and studio head.  PI figures it out, covers it up, and sends Daughter to a private clinic to treat her rapidly worsening mental illness.

'51 has Writer in Maryland.  Writer is there for the reading of his ex-wife's will.  Writer is really hoping for some dough because he is an arrears for Daughter's mental hospital fees and owes big on gambling debts. Well, his wife gives him nothing.  Writer has no dough and his call-girl girlfriend is letting him live off the dime of the mobster she is fucking at a local hotel.  Writer gets drunk, like usual, and goes to visit his son.  The son did inherit the ex-wife's fortune and hates his father.  Writer was as awful a father as he could be without killing anyone.  Writer and son argue, Writer shoves son, son falls, son hits head, son dies.  Writer tells Call Girl.  Call Girl takes writer back to house and they put dead son in bed and burn the place.

Writer is in line for son's estate.  Writer is sick to stomach with guilt.  Writer gets drunk.  Call Girl is suspect in son's death since she was once suspected of murdering a husband in Cleveland using the same cover-up.  Writer start panicking.  Writer resolves to kill Call Girl and put the blame on Mobster.  The idea would have worked but Writer is spotted by gambler's bodyguard and goes on the run.  Gambler is in Iowa when killers find him.  Winter ends Writer's story as Writer tries to kill himself driving head-on into the killers.

1. Longer at 605 pages.
2.  I enjoyed the Thompson tale the least. But, after writing the precis I'm betting that one was the hardest to plot.  Or not.

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