Book Review: The Twenty-Year Death


The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter is a one novel made of three novellas. Each novella is told from a different point of view but the stories all follow two central characters, Shem and Clotilde Rosenkrantz. The book begins in France at the turn of the century. A murder has been committed in a small French village, but there’s more to it than that. Shem and Clotilde are newly wed but there’s more to them, as well. Shem left his wife for Clotilde, a young and beautiful 19 year old. Scandal!
The story is told from the point of view of a city detective investigating the murder.

The second part of the book takes place in LA, 10 years or so later. Clotilde is now a movie star and things between her and Shem are not great. He’s cheating and drunk, she’s paranoid and suicidal. A private-eye is hired to keep an eye on her, but it turns out Clotilde was paranoid with good reason. There’s a serial killer on the loose.

The third part is told from Shem’s point of view. He’s a wreck, he and Clotilde are separated and things just go from bad to worse.

It was an interesting concept of a book. It was fun to follow their story from different points of view over time. However, I never really felt like I got to know Clotilde as a character. She went from young and naive to paranoid and irritating, with no real meat to her character. Shem met all the usual asshole husband stereotypes: drunk, cheating, gambling, washed up. Not until the third part of the book do you get to lift the lid on him, and to be honest, I wish I hadn’t. I had no sympathy for him and kept hoping he’d get arrested or killed or something. He was such a pathetic figure and nothing in the first two parts had done anything to make him salvageable.

I was pretty dissatisfied with the ending because I feel like it was supposed to be insight into a mind that unhinges and becomes murderous, but I’ve read other books that have done it better. The ending was tidy but with no satisfaction because I didn’t feel any of the characters deserved a tidy ending. I found the side characters from the first two parts more compelling than the central two.

Overall, I think I would have preferred to just read the first two novellas.

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