This debut novel by Ariel. S. Winter is built on a couple of gimmicks. It is three different novels set in three different decades intended to be read as one and each of the three novels is written in the style of three different greats in the world of noir: Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson. Published by the excellent Hard Case Crime imprint, all of these factors added up to me saying, “oh hell, yes!” after spotting this on the shelf of my local bookshop.
In the Georges Simenon segment, Malniveau Prison, set in 1931, our Maigret-esque chief inspector Pelleter (is it a bad sign that “pelleter” is French for “to shovel”?) comes to town to reinterview a notorious kidnapper and killer. While there he gets tangled up in a mystery involving dead prisoners, a possibly shady warden and an American writer and his young French wife. While Winter tried to keep his style succinct, it was still a far cry from my man Simenon and the Pelleter character was all cigar-chomping vagueness with bouts of bluster.
From there we are transported to an LA-like movie town called San Angelo in The Falling Star. It’s 1941 and our narrator is an ex-cop private dick named Dennis Foster. Al Knox, an old colleague who is now chief of security at a movie studio has set up a job for him. It turns out the American writer and his young French wife are now in the movie business. He does script treatments (and young startlets) while she as a high profile actress. She thinks she is being followed and the production company wants to placate her long enough to get her current film finished. Al makes it clear that they don’t believe she is being followed and that Dennis is not to investigate anything, just watch her until the film wraps. We all know that a certain brand of PI will do it anyway, unable and unwilling to just let things go. It’s got your standard cynical self-deprecating patter usually uttered by Robert Mitchum or Humphrey Bogart:
“I thought of something smart to say to that, but then I remembered I wasn’t smart, so I just turned up the stairs.”
The third book, Police at the Funeral, is narrated by our American writer, Shem Rosenkrantz, 10 years after the end of the last novel. He has fallen even deeper into debt and depravity. Violence ensues.
Winter is a competent enough writer and I appreciated the effort here but the book as a whole didn’t work for me. Forgetting his not always successful attempts to emulate certain styles, it was the lack of any real cohesion of the three novels other than some characters that leads me to give this book only three stars.