Publisher: Michael Joseph (Trade Paperback – 29 March 2022)
Series: Ernest Cunningham – Book One
Length: 384 pages
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
One of Australia’s fastest rising crime fiction stars, comedian turned mystery writer Benjamin Stevenson, returns with an outstanding standalone book that might be one of the best Australian crime fiction reads of 2022, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone.
One of my favourite Australian crime fiction authors now is the exceedingly talented Benjamin Stevenson, who has written some amazing works over the last couple of years. Stevenson’s writing career began in 2018 when he released the amazing murder mystery Greenlight (which was subsequently released as Trust Me When I Lie and She Lies in the Vines outside of Australia). A fantastic Australian crime fiction book with true crime elements to it, Greenlight followed a successful television producer who reinvestigates a murderer who was freed thanks to his show. Stevenson followed Greenlight up in 2020 with the epic sequel, Either Side of Midnight, which saw the same protagonist investigate an impossible murder in what was one of my favourite Australian books of 2020. Both these readers were pretty damn impressive, but Stevenson has saved his best work for the 2022 release, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone, which luckily has an outstanding story that matches the very cool title.
Everyone in my family has killed someone. Some of us, the high achievers, have killed more than once. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but it is the truth. Some of us are good, others are bad, and some just unfortunate.
I’m Ernest Cunningham. Call me Ern or Ernie. I wish I’d killed whoever decided our family reunion should be at a ski resort, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
Have I killed someone? Yes. I have.
Who was it?
Let’s get started.
EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE
As the title and the intriguing plot synopsis above suggests, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is an awesome read that sees Stevenson serve up an addictive narrative that is one part insane family drama and one part homage to classic detective novels. I had an incredible time reading this book early on in 2022 and I honestly should have written a review for it well before now.
The plot of Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is pretty bonkers as it follows a very damaged protagonist, teacher and crime fiction mega-fan Ernest Cunningham, as he attends one of the most awkward family reunions in history. Written from Ernest’s perspective as part of an in-universe book, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone sees Ernest reunite with the fellow members of the infamous Cunningham family at an isolated ski resort. The black sheep of a dark family with criminal connections, Ernest has been invited to attend a special event: the release of his brother Michael from jail after Ernest testified against him. However, once his brother arrives, a series of murders start to strike the resort, killing off several people. With the ski resort cut off from the outside by the snow, it falls to Ernest to discover who is killing the remaining guests at the lodge. However, everyone in his family is a suspect, as all of them have killed someone before, including Ernest, who has just as much motive as the rest. As the book continues, it becomes very clear that someone in the Cunningham family has killed again, it’s just a matter of finding out which one did it.
I have to admit that I was pretty in love with this book from the opening pages, especially as it becomes clear early on that Stevenson planned to blend the book’s mystery with some great humour and brilliant homages to classic murder mysteries. Stevenson lays out this story in a fun way that simultaneously focuses on the infamous main family, their complex past and relationships, while also presenting a compelling murder investigation that intentionally steals a lot of cues from classic whodunnits. Stevenson introduces an outrageous cast of complex characters for the story, and they were very intriguing to follow, especially as they all have deeper issues brought on by the deaths they are responsible for. The story at time transforms into a very moving and entertaining family drama, which helps to make the story richer and even more amusing. The mystery itself is very clever, and I loved the multiple compelling twists and reveals that accompanied it as the protagonist is forced to dive back into every terrible event his family has been involved in, including murder, robbery, police corruption and kidnapping, all of which leads to final, devastating solution. While the identity of the killer is a tad obvious, the reveal of why they are committing their crimes more than makes up for it, and Stevenson came up with one doozy of a motive. However, the real highlight of the book is the way in which Stevenson sets out Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone in the manner of an in-story chronicle written by the protagonist, which simultaneously takes on every established trope and rule of old-school detective novels and moulds it into itself.
As I mentioned a few times above, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone also acts as a homage to classic crime fiction novels, as Stevenson goes out of his way to simultaneously parody and revere the iconic detective genre. The book starts with two intriguing elements: the membership oath of the Detectives Club (a secret society of classic crime fiction writers), and Ronald Knox’s ’10 Commandments of Detective Fiction’. Both of these inclusions acknowledge the general tropes and rules of golden-age detective fiction, and they actually end up being used by the protagonist, and by extension Stevenson, as the main guideline for the mystery. The author continuously refers back to this list as the novel continues (he even suggests folding this page down so you can revisit it when needed), and I loved how this mystery came together as the author tried to avoid breaking any of these rules. The author also cheekily informs the reader in advance when in the book someone is going to die with an accompanying page number, ostensibly to allow the reader to jump ahead if needed. However, as most people will continue through at the normal pace, it heightens the suspense a little as you get closer and closer to the page on which you know a death is going to occur. Various elements like this, as well as a ton of self-referential internal monologues and discussions about the rules of whodunnits, gives this book an incredible meta feel, which Stevenson uses to full effect to tell a particularly hilarious story. The author’s background as a comedian is on full display here as he creates an incredibly funny book, even with the continued murders and human tragedy. These clever references are a great love letter to the classic detective novels, especially as he addresses them in such a satirical way, and all mystery lovers will get a real kick out this book as a result.
Overall, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is an absolutely outstanding book that I cannot recommend enough. While I have enjoyed Benjamin Stevenson’s mystery novels in the past, I think that Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is where he finally reveals his full potential. Not only is the mystery itself brilliant, loaded as it is with compelling characters and a dark family history, but Stevenson finally showcases his impressive comedy skills and uses them to produce a truly delightful and incredibly addictive novel. The combination of mystery, humour and a clever homage to the classics, is an intoxicating mixture, and it was near impossible to put this book down once you started reading it. As such, I must give Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone a full five-star rating, and it was one of the most entertaining books I read in all of 2022. I have so much love for this book and I was very excited when I heard that Stevenson is releasing a sequel in October titled Everyone On This Train Is A Suspect.