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

 

Title: Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone

Author: Benjamin Stevenson

Published: March 2002, Michael Joseph

Status: Read April 2022 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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My Thoughts:

You cannot possibly read the brief prologue to Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson and not be immediately intrigued by the promise of this quirky murder mystery that breaks all the rules.

“Everyone in my family has killed someone. Some of us, the high achievers, have killed more than once.”

Though Ernest Cunningham self publishes ‘how-to’ books for crime fiction writers, he can offer no special insight when a stranger is found murdered during a high country snowstorm in the midst of the Cunningham family reunion. However when the sole police officer who responds to the report arrests Ernie’s brother, Michael, whose release from prison for killing a man is the celebratory reason for the gathering, his mother insists he clears Michael’s name. After all, Ernie is the reason Michael went to jail in the first place.

“Call me a reliable narrator. 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.”

Related by Ernest in the first person while writing a book in the aftermath of events, the storyline is roughly chronological, though with necessary digressions to explain the family dynamic, and with unnecessary, but often amusing appeals, directed towards the reader, and his editor. Ernie’s conversational tone is delightfully at odds with the escalating drama as death follows death, presumably at the hands of a serial killer with a distinct and unpleasant MO.

“Look, we’re not a family of psychopaths. Some of us are good, others are bad, and some are just unfortunate.”

Family reunions are rarely free of conflict but the Cunningham’s are besieged by it. Ernie is currently person non grata, having testified against his brother in the trial that jailed Michael for three years to the great disappointment of his mother. Ernie’s wife is attending the gathering as his brother’s girlfriend, while Michael’s wife is in attendance hoping to win her husband back. Ernie’s stepsister seems particularly annoyed with everyone, while his Aunt Katherine is demanding everyone sticks to her carefully planned colour coded schedule. And of course, people are dying.

“Ronald Knox’s ’10 Commandments of Detective Fiction’, 1929”

More akin to the classics, Stevenson cleverly subverts many of the expected conventions of mystery fiction, for example, though there is a locked room element to one of the deaths, the door is not actually locked, and he even foretells each murder, including page references in the prologue. Yet there are plenty of surprises, and importantly the pace never drags.

“Family is not whose blood runs in your veins, it’s who you’d spill it for.”

A creative and compelling whodunnit perfect for today’s jaded mystery readers, Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone is witty, entertaining and ingenious.

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Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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Review: Either Side of Midnight by Benjamin Stevenson


Title: Either Side of Midnight

Author: Benjamin Stevenson

Published: 1st September 2020, Michael Joseph

Status: Read September 2020, PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

“How can it be murder when the victim pulled the trigger?”

I somehow overlooked Benjamin Stevenson’s debut novel, Greenlight, shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award for Best Debut Crime Fiction in 2018, which introduces true crime documentary producer, Jack Quick, but i was intrigued by the premise of Either Side of Midnight, and assured it could stand on its own.

It seems events in Greenlight didn’t go particularly well for Jack Quick. When he is introduced in Either Side of Midnight, Jack is in prison on multiple charges related to perverting the course of justice. Just before his release, he is visited by the identical twin brother of a TV presenter who had recently shot himself live on air. Despite the suicide being witnessed by millions of viewers, Harry Midford is convinced his brother was murdered, and offers Jack a substantial sum to prove it. Jack, who has his issues with his own brother, reluctantly agrees to investigate and begins by poking around the studio where ‘Mr Midnight’ was filmed and Sam killed himself. What he learns piques his interest, and as he digs deeper, Harry’s claim doesn’t seem so outlandish after all.

Inspired in part by a recent-ish landmark case in the US involving the use, or rather misuse, of technology, Stevenson presents a creative and intriguing plot, with an original twist on the ‘locked room’ mystery. I thought the storyline of Either Side of Midnight was very clever, I generally had no idea how the plot would unravel until the moment Stevenson intended it, with red herrings deftly distracting from the culprit and their motive. The action ramps up as Jack grows closer to understanding why Sam died, culminating in a exciting confrontation.

I do feel that in not having reading Greenlight, I may have missed some of the nuances of Jack’s character. He is certainly an interesting protagonist, with a unique vice. Traditionally male crime solvers tend to be alcoholics, or womanisers, or handy with their fists, or all three, Jack is bulimic. In Jack’s case the eating disorder was triggered in early adolescence by his brother’s accident, and I think the author’s representation of his illness, and his relationship with his brother, is portrayed sensitively.

Though Either Side of Midnight is set on Australia’s east coast, I didn’t think there was really a strong sense of place, which was a tiny bit disappointing.

An entertaining thriller with a complex lead and an original plot, I enjoyed Either Side of Midnight and I’ve added Greenlight to my WTR list.

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Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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