The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter – Book Review [Bane of Kings]

20 Year Death

Bane of Kings reviews the highly acclaimed noir crime novel The Twenty-Year Death, published by Hard Case Crime (Titan Books) and written by Ariel S. Winter. 

“An original, if flawed, entertaining peice of noir fiction with a fantastic premise. ~The Founding Fields

I haven’t read a noir crime novel before, and this is probably my most under-read genre, apart from paranormal romance (But there’s a reason for that)and if it wasn’t for the wonderful opportunity from Titan Books to read this novel, I probably would have continued without reading any noir crime novels. However, that opportunity came, and I seized it, and as soon as The Twenty-Year Death arrived, I started reading it, not really knowing what to expect. However, what I got though – was something that surprised me to a huge extent. I wasn’t expecting anything as good as I got. However, I did have some issues with The Twenty-Year Death though – after all, no novel is perfect.

A breathtaking first novel written in the form of three separate crime novels, each set in a different decade and penned in the style of a different giant of the mystery genre. 
The body found in the gutter in France led the police inspector to the dead man’s beautiful daughter—and to her hot-tempered American husband.
A hardboiled private eye hired to keep a movie studio’s leading lady happy uncovers the truth behind the brutal slaying of a Hollywood starlet.
A desperate man pursuing his last chance at redemption finds himself with blood on his hands and the police on his trail…
Three complete novels that, taken together, tell a single epic story, about an author whose life is shattered when violence and tragedy consume the people closest to him. It is an ingenious and emotionally powerful debut performance from literary detective and former bookseller Ariel S. Winter, one that establishes this talented newcomer as a storyteller of the highest caliber.

So, the premise looks certainly awesome. We get a homage to three famous crime authors, all of whom I’ve never read, in order: Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson, and each of the three novels, “The Malniveaux Prison“, “Falling Stars” and “Police at the Funeral” are all interesting reads. Winter could have chosen to just take one novel and write it as homage to either Simenon, Chandler or Thompson, but instead, he manages to weave them all into one, huge novel with some fantastic plotting skills and a great, overarching mystery that spans the course of the three novels.

The Malniveaux Prison is the first novel that I read, and it takes place, as mentioned in the blurb, in France 1931. This first section is defeinity one of my favouritesand although it isn’t the largest, I found it to be a staggering introduction to the author’s work, and by the end of The Malniveaux Prison, I came out of it wanting more. I’m not comparing Winter’s work with Simenon’s as I haven’t read any of his work, but The Malniveaux Prison makes me want to read Simenon, if he’s anything like Winter. The characters are possibly my favourite of the whole novel, and Inspector Pelleter is probably my favourite lead character of the bunch. The novel is entertaining enough to read on a standalone, but when read with the other two novels, I find that this allows for a better experience when read collectively, and I can see why they were published in one bumper hardback edition, rather in three separate volumes. The three novels are each different to one another and that’s what makes each novel more compelling – you don’t get the sense that you’re reading the same book twice.

Falling Stars is the middle novel in The Twenty-Year Death, and it introduces us to a different character, a different style and a different mystery. Set ten years after The Malniveaux Prison, we join the adventures of a private eye in Hollywood, and this middle novel is where most of the action happens. It’s as close to LA Noire (The only noir crime I’ve experienced before – an Xbox 360 game) as we’re going to get, and the author that is paid homage to in this work is Raymond Chandler, who was the only author that I’ve even heard of before The Twenty-Year Death. (Shows you how I need to read more crime fiction). The setting is fantastic, realistic and this is probably my second favourite novel of the three. The dialogue has changed from The Malniveaux Prison and is snappy and cynical, as opposed to the first novel. Winter weaves an interesting tale here, and is also written in first person, as opposed to the third-person narrative of Falling Stars‘ predecessor. Appearing in all three novels is the actress Chloe Rhodes, but yet – she never is the main narrative character in any of the three novels. I would have perhaps enjoyed The Twenty-Year Death more than I would have if we had some perspective from the actress’ point of view. However, we don’t, which is disappointing, but the rest of the book makes up for this.

Finally, you have Police at the Funeral, the tale set closest to the modern day (only in 1951), and introduces us to the perspective of the inner thoughts of the man who committed the murder – making it even more unique than the previous two novels, despite the fact that it was my least favourite of the bunch. The novel features the murderer trying to justify every decision that he makes, which made it hard to enjoy particularly in first person. Whilst The Malniveaux Prison made me want to read Simenon’s work, Police at the Funeral didn’t want to make me read some of Thompson’s, which is a shame, as I found the novel to be a let down after the great first two tales. The first person narrative is back for this one, and unlike in Falling Stars, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did then. However, the originality of the whole concept behind The Twenty-Year Death kept me going, and I’m glad it did, the conclusion felt satisfying despite the fact that Police at the Funeral may not have been, and I think it’s safe to say that if you plan on picking up The Twenty-Year Death, just be warned that the last story may not be as good as the first two, which is a shame as Police at the Funeral let The Twenty-Year Death down for me as a whole, even though The Malniveaux Prison and Falling Stars were superb.

However, that didn’t stop me from getting the whole thing read, even if it was a staggering 700 pages long. Maybe I shouldn’t have leapt into such a long title as this right after reading the first volume of George RR Martin’s Dance with Dragons, (A Song of Ice and Fire Book 5), as I ended up reading two thick books straight after the other.

Verdict: 4/5

Bane of Kings is one our most senior book reviewers here at The Founding Fields, based in England. He’s a prolific reviewer that has contributed to many things here and around the internet.


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