EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE by Benjamin Stevenson (Penguin, 29 March 2022)
It is only a quarter of the way into 2022, but it is hard to imagine that there will be another book this year as quirky and original, and as down right entertaining, as Benjamin Stevenson’s Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone (Penguin, 29 March 2022).
Stevenson’s first two crime novels, Greenlight (aka She Lies In The Vines) and The Other Side Of Midnight, were very good, and probably underappreciated, straight crime novels on the darker side of the genre. They both featured good twisty finales, but apart from the ability to surprise, they are nothing like Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone, which is a witty, clever and very funny novel, that plays homage to the classic British murder mystery.
The story is told from the perspective of Ernie Cunningham, a crime aficionado and author of a book on how to write murder mysteries. In keeping with Ronald Knox’s classic ’10 Commandments’ of Detective Fiction’, Cunningham strives to play fair as both the narrator and the sleuth: “Everything I tell you will be the truth, or, at least, the truth as I knew it to be at the time that I thought I knew it. Hold me to that.” There are no supernatural agencies or unexplained twins involved and the murderer is not introduced late in the novel. And in the opening section, Cunningham also tells the reader on what pages “deaths in this book either happen or are reported to have happened.”
I will not attempt to describe the plot, other than to say that it revolves around a strange family reunion in a snowed-in resort in the Australian alps and involves several killings, in the past and the present. The basic premise of the story is that everyone in Cunningham’s family has killed someone: “Some of us, the high achievers, have killed more than once.” The novel is divided into sections about each member of Cunningham’s family, and the discovery of a murdered body early in the book, gives the story the momentum it needs, as Cunningham tries to work out who the murderer is before more killings can occur.
When he is not writing crime fiction, Stevenson is an award-winning comedian, and half of the musical comedy duo The Stevenson Experience with his identical twin brother James, and Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone, reflects his gift for sharp, astute observations and fun. The humour and the wit, however, does not overwhelm the story and Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone is a cross between a classic ‘Golden Age’ murder mystery, Daniel Craig’s Knives Out and Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, but with more bite and less tweeness.
The narration is crisp and fast paced, and fans of classic British murder mysteries will appreciate Cunningham’s wry reflections on the crime novel:
I’ve always believed that there are more clues in a mystery novel than just what’s on the page. A book is a physical object, after all, which can betray a few secrets the author does not intend… If you don’t know what I’m talking about, think about the book in your hands. If the killer is ever revealed with more than a leaflet of pages remaining against your right thumb, they cannot be the real killer; there is simply too much of the book still to be read.
And there is this suggestion for a modern addition to Knox’s Commandments:
If Ronald Knox had been born one hundred years later, I’m sure this eleventh commandment would have forbade any Google searching. But what can I say: he’s long dead and I was trying not to join him.
At the core of the book, however, is a good mystery plot, and the various twists and turns will keep even the most jaded crime aficionado happy. One of the twists is easy to guess, but the rest are well hidden and the book builds to a tense and exciting conclusion, which is also quite bloody. The twists are all underpinned by fairly placed clues and some clever red herrings, and the cast of suspects are an interesting and engaging bunch. The final resolution is well thought out and Stevenson delivers good surprises all the way down to the last page. A stellar performance!
Four and a half to five stars out of five!
Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone will be released in Australia on 29 March 2022 and in the United Kingdom on 18 August 2022. It will also be released in the United States in Kindle and Audible formats on 29 March 2022. The film and TV rights have also been sold to HBO, so expect a television series sometime soon.
Thanks to the publishers and the Canberra Weekly for an advanced copy of the book for review.
Here are links to my reviews of Benjamin Stevenson’s earlier books: