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Noir Crime Fiction | The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter

Noir Crime Fiction The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter

My Copy (Cover Art by Charles Pyle)

The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter is as ambitious a work of noir as any I’ve ever read. Presented as three separate novels, wrapped in the same binding, telling the story of a tortured author across decades. This daring undertaking is further complicated by his literary approach, channeling the prose styles of three noir fiction legends; Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson. With such an innovative narrative, I feel my normal style of review too clumsy an effort, especially when paired with the elegant depth and scope of Mr. Winter’s work. I’ve agonized over the correct approach, and decided to forgo my traditional noir definition run down; instead opting for a simpler book-by-book evaluation. Let it suffice to say that his books are indisputably noir, with each defining element meticulously observed. The Twenty-Year Death is the magnum opus of a noir-loving madman.

Book 1- Malniveau Prison

Pelleter shook his head, trying to soften his expression. “You never can tell. Later, afterwards, of course, and then you wonder if you always knew.” He considered his words. “Men are capable of anything.”

A small town in France in 1931, a dead body and a missing person– a classic noir opener to stage act one of the novel. Chief Inspector Pelleter, a cigar smoking veteran from the city, must expose the filthy underbelly of pristine Verargent while challenging shy citizens who like their secrets buried. A complex tapestry emerges, composed of Simenon-esque methodical stitchwork, and two seemingly unimportant side characters shift into focus; A boozing American author, Shem Rosenkrantz, and his very young French wife, Clotilde-ma-Fleur. Winter’s treatment of the narrative is impressive, his channeled Simenon convincing if not perfect.

“I’m just about finished with the case.”

She looked at him then, but it didn’t look as though she saw him. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It might not. But for the living, it’s all we can ever do.”

Ariel S. Winter Noir Author

Ariel S. Winter (via thelosangelesbeat.com)

Book 2- The Falling Star

I had been hired to babysit a paranoid prima donna, and I had ended up finding a dead woman cut almost to pieces. For some reason, I felt as though I hadn’t done a very good job.

Ten years pass, and Shem and his french wife (who now goes by Chloe Rose) have become permanent fixtures in Hollywood. He’s a quickly sinking author, now spending his evaporating talent writing for porn-rags, while living large on Chloe’s widespread fame as a golden-era film starlet. The narrator is another investigator, this time a private eye named Dennis Foster, hired to investigate claims that Chloe is being stalked. What he uncovers is a climate of corruption and scandal that too many who want him out of. Written in the metaphor heavy style of Raymond Chandler, even the plot feels like genuine imitation; Foster a carbon-copy of the incorruptible Phillip Marlowe. The Falling Star is an homage to powerful men in their prime, and how they become victims of their own success and desires. Trying themes of adultery, homosexuality, pornography, violence, and murder coalesce in a novel that feels straight from Chandler’s pen.

Gilplaine moved his mouth like he had just tasted something sour. “My men tell me you tried to bring a gun into my club.”
I shrugged. “I thought I might need it.”
“And what do you think now?”
“I was right.”

The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter

Shem Rosenkrantz by Charles Pyle (via edrants.com)

Book 3- Police at the Funeral

She faked shock, raising her hand to her mouth in the perfect oops pose. “I’m not that kind of girl,” she said, and then she made herself ugly by laughing.

Another ten years pass, and we’re nearing the only possible conclusion; the inevitable one that keeps us turning the pages and feeds the gloomy pit in our guts. 1951, and Shem Rosenkrantz is our narrator. He’s a picture of paranoia, on and off the wagon and bleeding from debt, a pattern that perpetually forces him into greater feats of lunacy. His deranged wife is now a shut-in at the Enoch White Clinic in California, but Shem’s back home in Calvert Maryland– attending to the will of his recently dead ex-wife Quinn, desperate for a piece of her inheritance. Forget the family- man slant–he’s brought along his prostitute girlfriend Vee, and you can bet her eye is on the dough while she’s working the week for the local mob boss. When Shem sees his son Joe for the first time in years, he realizes that he’s more desperate for his affection than anything else- a yearning that may not be fulfilled this late in his life. Act 3 in The Twenty-Year Death is the darkest tonally of the trio, and Shem’s pained narration is loaded with gravitas. I felt that Police at the Funeral was vaguely Brubaker-ian (new word anyone?)– we watch Shem make poor decision after poor decision, and his self destructive choices constrict all hope from the plot.

“All you care about is that somebody’s read your damn books. Well nobody has.”
She said that just to hurt me. And it worked every time. We were like a broken record, having the same fight over and over, and still each word squeezed me tighter and tighter.

Upon completing all three novels, the final product felt magnetic and beautiful– a torturous picture of a life destroyed. Police at the Funeral was my personal favorite, but Malniveau Prison and The Falling Star were essential to its construction. Each novel added to the last, strangely without feeling like sequels, each a self contained and wildly different narrative. Cheers to Mr. Winter on what is sure to be considered an instant noir fiction classic. He spent so much time imitating the prose stylings of different authors, I can’t wait to read his own.

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Noir Crime Fiction | The Widow by Georges Simenon

Noir Crime Fiction The Widow Georges Simenon

The Widow by Georges Simenon

The Widow by Georges Simenon was published in 1942 and is an exquisite piece of french noir crime fiction. The entire work is laced with the troubling desires of emotionally and spiritually deranged characters. The prose is beautiful (even in translation), and the lovely descriptions create a picturesque backdrop for despicability; the dregs of sin. Simenon masterfully paints the turmoil of a recently paroled murderer who is searching for his place in a world that refuses to accept him, and contrasts it with the plight of an anxious widow whose family is plotting against her.

Tati Couderc is a somewhat portly widow who has inherited a lovely house and plot of land from her husband. Her trouble-making son Rene is away at war, and her aged and confused father-in-law helps her tend the animals. The sisters of her deceased husband desire the farmhouse for themselves, and have begun charting legal channels to achieve this end. Tati is not foolish, however, and she sexually sedates their father frequently; using sex as a means of ensuring his favor (as one would ensure the love of a dog by giving it treats).

Jean Passerat-Monnoyeur is the disowned son of a wealthy brewer. He killed a man, and but for the wit of his lawyer he would have been decapitated as a result. Released on a spat of lies and legal technicalities, he has recently finished a five year sentence in prison. In the course of his aimless wandering, he encounters Tati on a crowded city bus, and follows her home. She, assuming that he was a foreigner, invites him to work as a farmhand for reasonable pay, room, and board. Intrigued with the bossy, anxious, and energetic woman; and lacking anywhere else to go, he accepts.

The crux of the conflict in the book occurs when Jean, against Tati’s wishes, finds himself helplessly in love with her niece Felicie.

Here is the noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The gorgeous countryside of a remote and undeveloped France is not a very seedy underworld, but the selfish, violent, and depraved individuals that live there create a perfect noir setting.

2) The Anti-Hero

Jean is a deeply sympathetic anti-hero. The Widow is essentially the tale of his struggle to come to grips with himself; the struggle to discover who he really is. The murder in his past haunts every sleeping moment, and Felicie every waking. Simenon takes us on a powerfully emotional journey with Jean, and his insight into the mind of a murderer is chilling.

3) The Femme Fatale

Felicie is a young and radiant red-head. She has a baby from a previous man to which we are never introduced, and Tati constantly refers to her as a slut and a laz-ab0ut. Initially, Felicie rejects Jean’s interest brutally, but as she sees the depth of her hold on him, she begins to cling to the periphery of his existence. As a femme fatale plot device, she creates the final encounter in the novel.

He thought of Felicie all day long and it was partly Tati’s fault, for he could feel that she too was thinking of her the whole time.

4) Misogyny

Oddly, there is very little misogyny in this noir crime fiction. Tati has such a strong and abrasive personality that she dominates Jean as if he were a servant.

5) Redemption

Jean believes the redemption for his past exists in acceptance. If he can find a home, a place where he is loved and needed, then he can find peace.

Noir Crime Fiction Georges Simenon

Georges Simenon (via elarcadearciniegas.blogspot.com)

6) Eroticism

The widow Couderc uses sex as a tool of control and domination. She uses it on her father-in-law, and shortly after hiring Jean she uses it on him. But it fails to have the same effect on Jean. Contrarily, Felicie’s mere presence is intoxicating to him, and his desire for her causes him to betray the trust given by Tati.

Jean’s first thought was that they could not remain there, standing among the potatoes, and he led her gently toward the shed, aimlessly still, and still without speaking. Then he kissed her once more and he saw that her eyes were closed, her neck of an unreal whiteness.

It was, truly, as though it had been foreseen from all eternity that they would meet on that evening, at that spot, and that they need say nothing to each other, that they would recognize each other and have only to fulfill their destiny.

7) Loss of Innocence

The recollection of Jean’s childhood is tragic, as he was a friendless and pitiful boy. His instructors were quite cruel and set him apart from the other students because of his wealthy background. This isolated him, and caused him to pretend to be ill for much of his life in order to avoid conflict. When he eventually murdered a man to whom he had lost a fortune at the gambling den, his loss of innocence was complete.

8 ) Racism

There are small racist remarks towards the Polish here and there.

9) Smoke

Cigarettes are a part of daily life. Jean often retreats into their hot embrace.

10) Emasculation

Tati is incredibly emasculating to Jean and the other men in her life. Although she is rather kind, ultimately she’s selfish, bossy, and defiant. Her continually condescending treatment of Jean leads him to the tragic climax at the novel’s conclusion. A climax that may have been avoided if she had not so challenged his manhood.

The Widow was a delightful noir crime fiction to read. I truly enjoyed it.

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