The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter comes out this month, and I'll be reviewing it for BAD. As a lover of noir and crime novels, I'm really excited about this title, and I think the below excerpt exhibits the kind of snappy, laconic voice that serves the genre best. It's got a jazzy title and great cover, and I'm looking forward to checking it out. Stay tuned for my review.
About the book:
“Bold, innovative, and thrilling—The Twenty-Year Death crackles with suspense and will keep you up late.” - Stephen King
THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH tells the story of a writer and his wife whose lives are torn apart by violence and calamity – but tells it in the form of three separate, complete novels, each set in a different decade (1931, 1941, 1951) and each written in a style inspired by a different giant of the mystery genre: Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson. Although each of the three novels is self-contained, featuring its own detectives, plot, and resolution, the three are woven together into a larger meta-narrative through the presence of characters who reappear in all three books, moving from background figures in the first to take on more prominent roles in the second and fully occupy the harsh glare of the spotlight in the third.
In addition to his years as a bookseller for The Corner Bookstore in New York City and Borders in Baltimore, Winter is also the author of the blog We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie, devoted to the rediscovery of long-forgotten children’s books written by literary icons such as John Updike, Langston Hughes, and Gertrude Stein. His writing has appeared in The Urbanite and on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and in 2008 he won the Free Press “Who Can Save Us Now?” short story contest. He also has a children’s picture book – One of a Kind (Aladdin) – coming out this year.
THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH will be published simultaneously in hardcover and e-book editions, with a cover painting in the classic pulp style by Charles Pyle. Hollywood star Rose McGowan (Grindhouse, The Black Dahlia,Charmed) posed for the cover in the role of the book’s femme fatale.
The below excerpt is from the second part of the book, the 1941 section in the style of Raymond Chandler. The dialogue is pretty sharp and dry, like Chandler's, and I love that last line.
The Carrot-Top Club had originally been built as the guest house of a mountain retreat for some new-money oil millionaire who lost the property when his money ran out. Gilplaine had gotten it cheap at auction. It was a two-story frontier home with unpainted cedar shingles and a slate roof. A canopied porch of wooden planks ran the entire length of the front of the house with two rocking chairs still off to the side waiting for ma and pa. There were two windows to either side of the door and three more upstairs, all blocked by blackout curtains, which left the parking lot shrouded in night, except where the open front door cast a yellow carpet of light leading into the club.
I arrived at the door just as the valet returned from parking the Buick. A dark-haired sharp in a tuxedo stopped me in the doorway and tapped my shoulder clip. “No guns.”
“This? I just wear it out of habit. It’s like my wallet.”
The tuxedo gave me a smile and held out his hand. “I’ll take good care of it for you.”
“Like hell you will,” I said and walked away from the door. I peeled off my coat, unbuckled my shoulder holster, and tucked the whole thing under the passenger seat of my car. When I got back to the front door, neither the tuxedo nor the valet so much as looked at me as I entered.
Inside, the whole first floor was one large open room about the size of a small ballroom, with exposed support beams and a stairway in the middle going up to the second floor. A mahogany bar lined one wall, its mirror doubling the four rows of liquor bottles. That part was all strictly legal now, although the bar was scuffed enough to suggest that it had been dependable through Prohibition too. The bar’s brass edges could have used a shine. That didn’t prevent half of the barstools from being filled with dark-suited men and women in cocktail dresses shouting over one another to be heard.
The other side of the room was where the real action was. There were three blackjack stations, two craps tables, and a roulette wheel. The dealers wore red vests with brass buttons and black bowties. Small crowds of boisterous onlookers partially hid the gaming tables. The sound of the ball skittering around the roulette wheel could be heard over the noise of excited conversation. There was no band. No one would have listened to them if there had been one, so Gilplaine probably figured he might just as well save the cost.
I went to the bar first. As I did, a heavyweight champion in an ill-fitting suit followed after me. I leaned against the bar and he leaned against it right next to me. It was an empty space. No reason he shouldn’t lean against it.
I caught the bartender’s eye and ordered a Scotch. I scanned the room while he poured my drink. There was no sign of Rosenkrantz or Gilplaine. I tasted my Scotch. It was too good for me, but the studio was picking up my expenses. I paid and started for the nearest blackjack table. My oversized shadow followed with all of the subtlety of a white suit at a funeral. I watched several hands and for all I know so did he. The house went over once, hit blackjack twice, and paid out to a dealt blackjack once. I thought I’d check on the other tables just to make sure that my new friend got his exercise. At the craps table, he stood so close I could feel his breath on the back of my neck. I turned and looked at him, but he just smiled a closed- mouth smile. I showed him all of my teeth, then turned back to the game.
When I had had enough of that, I went around to the other side of the table, crossed behind the croupier at the roulette wheel, squeezed past a couple leaning against the wall, and hurried over to the stairs. I was only halfway up when the heavy- weight’s tread sounded behind me. I turned and was able to look him in the eye from two steps up. “Did somebody stick a candy on my back?”
He grinned again. “I’d’ve thought your mother’d have taught you the golden rule.”
“I know a few golden rules. Which one do you mean?”
“Treat others the way you’d want ’em to treat you back.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that one,” I said. “I don’t remember following you though.”
This time he showed me that he was missing a few of his teeth.
“Yeah, well,” I said, “then it’s time to switch places. You take the lead and I’ll follow you to Gilplaine’s office.”
The heavyweight raised his chin. “You’ll find it. It’s the second door on the left. I’ll be right behind you in case you get scared.”
I thought of something smart to say to that, but then I remembered I wasn’t smart, so I just turned up the stairs.