04 April 2022

Review: Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson book cover

* Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House *

Absolutely brilliant! And to use the words of Jane Harper when interviewing Aussie author Benjamin Stevenson for Dymocks recently, "What a triumph!!"

Ernest Cunningham (Ernie) is a self-published writer who publishes how-to books for readers learning to write a crime novel. Naturally he reads a lot of crime novels himself, and when the book opens Ernie's on his way to a family reunion in the Australian high country. Things are tense in the family and he's on the outer, with references to being the primary reason his brother went to jail.
"Without seeming too interested, I tried to read my mother's expression. It was unfamiliar to me, so I figured it must have been warm and welcoming." Page 93
In a surprising opening, our narrator - aptly named Ernest - breaks the fourth wall to inform us he's a truth teller and he promises to tell the truth (or at least the truth as he knew it to be at the time) about what happened at the reunion. Breaking the fourth wall happens when a character or narrator addresses the reader or audience directly. I've just started watching a British crime series called Annika which does this, as does Markus Zusak in The Messenger and of course Charlotte Bronte, famously in Jane Eyre.

Ernie insists he won't be an unreliable narrator and even provides a list of rules from one of his books at the beginning of this one while encouraging the reader to hold him to account.

This isn't the only time he addresses the reader, there are plenty of side notes and easter eggs for the attentive reader to collect and enjoy along the way. Ernie often foreshadows events to come that somehow ratchet up the tension and pace without spoiling a single thing. At one point, a character vomits, but our narrator stops to point out, that 'no, she isn't pregnant.' Ernie hates how a woman throwing up in books or on the big screen is almost always a pre-cursor to finding out she's pregnant. I hate that cliche too and boy does Stevenson tear this one - and others - down in this novel.

Bodies start piling up at the family reunion and we begin to learn the back stories of each of the family members and how they were responsible for killing someone. This refreshingly modern mystery novel is inspired by the likes of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, but don't be fooled by thinking that it'll be old fashioned or contrived.

Witty, fresh and unique, there are also plenty of funny moments and Stevenson's background as a comedian ensures humour is deployed throughout the novel.
"You're a fantastic surgeon, Sofia. Marcelo trusted you with his shoulder, and he needs that for slamming his fist on the table dramatically in court. That's like operating on Beyoncé's voice box." Page 127
Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson is meta fiction of the very best kind, and the author has produced a set of characters to remember in the Cunningham family. I loved the Aunt in charge of organising the reunion with her spreadsheet.
"And I know I glossed over the fact that there's a freaking library with a fireplace in the building (which happens to be where I will solve the damn thing)." Page 79
Despite telling us where he'll solve the crime, the page numbers for each of the deaths and more, the thrilling narrative drives the pace forward and had me questioning everyone! Brilliant plotting left this reader impressed and recommending this widely.

In terms of reading experience, this is like reading The Martian by Andy Weir, you read a little, you chuckle, you marvel and read some more, racing to the end. I read and reviewed Greenlight recently and still have the second in the series to look for Either Side of Midnight, but wowee, the author has certainly signalled his arrival in the Australian crime fiction hall of fame with Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone.

I already know this is going to be in my Top 5 Books of 2022 list and you can read a FREE extract here.

My Rating:

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