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THE TWENTY YEAR DEATH – “She was beautiful. He was damned.”

September 6, 2012

The Twenty-Year Death, Publisher: Hard Case Crime,  Hardcover $25.99, Kindle $7.79, 700 pages 

This Kindle book has an unusual form. There are three connected crime stories and each part is written in the style of a famous mystery story author. The first one was suppose to be that of Georges Simenon (to be honest I found it tiresome). The second is Raymond Chandler-ish. And the last owes much to Jim (The Killer Inside Me) Thompson.

The first part brings in someone new at the end of the book who is responsible for the death of French prisoners found dead outside of a prison. The second, has a murdered who is the deranged son of the head of a movies studio. Again, we don’t get real scenes with him and don’t much care because we’re not personally connected with the central character. The last story is the one that works, we care about the narrator and the resolution fits the crime (he accidentally killed his estranged son).

I’ll admit this last does draw on some of the preceding stories do develop our empathy for the central character, a has-been writer with an institutionalized wife. There are scenes that would be standouts in a forties noir film and I couldn’t imagine how the author was going to end the story―here is a narrator we wrongly feel for (much as we would a Patricia Highsmith character) yet wouldn’t feel right if he got away with what he did. I turned the pages ever more quickly to find out how this dilemma would be solved. The ending is unexpected but satisfying in a haunting way. It not only works for that section but makes sense of the title and the whole conceit of the book.

I have always felt that a short story or novel that starts out poorly doesn’t get better. This one does and is well worth the read.

– Jack Lehman

Get this directly from Amazon for $12.40: The Twenty-Year Death (Hard Case Crime)

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