Reading Tip: 'The Twenty-Year Death'

I really should have mentioned this in time for the long, book-reading-friendly "festive" period stretching from Thanksgiving to the New Year holidays, but, hey, I was reading the book myself then. And Inauguration Day, MLK Day, Chinese New Year, etc are still ahead, and it's still summer reading period in Australia. So:

20Year.pngIf you're looking for a good, lengthy, high-end-diversion read, let me suggest The Twenty-Year Death, by Ariel S. Winter. Cover shown at right, when I was reading the book at Thanksgiving time. This is part of the "Hard Case Crime" series that I've discussed over the years, for instance here back in 2008  and here about a year ago. The series is a combination of resurrected noir classics, with 1950s-and-earlier cover art, and original works.

Twenty-year is in the brand-new category, and is quite a tour de force. It is long because it is actually three novels, with an overlapping set of characters. The first is in the style of Georges Simenon; the second, Raymond Chandler; and the third, the immortal (and amoral*) Jim Thompson. The Simenon story is set in France in 1931, and the Chandler and Thompson episodes in greater L.A., in 1941 and 1951 respectively. For my taste, Winter's evocation of each writer's stye and sensibility becomes steadily more effective as the book goes on, so that by the end the Thompson section could fit right along such bleak classics as The Killer Inside Me. If you're in the mood for this kind of thing, this is the thing to read.

This is Winter's first novel. Keep writing!
* For later discussion: Why I am drawn to the noir writers who portray amoral-and-worse characters from the inside, ranging from Thompson to Patricia Highsmith to Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl. Hmm, maybe this is a question I should not ask.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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