The author, Jane Harper, calls Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone an “…utterly original…exceptionally fresh, smart, funny book—I’ve never read anything like this before.” That is well said, and an understatement, especially for a book that mines the well-traveled trope from And Then There Were None.
From the first three pages in the Prologue, the reader immediately has an idea what this book is going to be about. Not necessarily the plot, although clearly there are going to be murders, but how the story is going to unfold. This is because the author, Benjamin Stevenson, injects humor in his conversational narration; boldly and pretentiously tells the reader on what pages deaths will occur or be reported (although, because of this brashness I find it hilarious that he misses one – see if you can find it); and he breaks the fourth wall. Now I suppose if an author is going to break the wall, then do it early and be smart about it. To his credit, Stevenson pulls it off and by going there right away on page 2, he prepares the reader for future times when he directly addresses the reader, such as on page 14: “Reader, you and I already know…” Although at times his talking directly to the reader is off-putting, overall, it fits reasonably well within the voice of the family-punching-bag narrator, Ernest Cunningham, so I can’t really fault Stevenson. With that said, this author will never go near that third rail, so kudos to Stevenson.
After the first several chapters, it was obvious Stevenson was not the typical mystery writer because the story reads like a comedian’s running monologue about a complicated murder mystery as opposed to a seasoned author telling the story. So, I checked the back book flap, and there was my answer. Stevenson is an award-winning stand-up comedian and author. Then it all made sense: the taboo-breaking and previously-noted fourth wall dalliances, his overindulgent use of exclamation points and italics (I gleefully blame the editor for allowing this ad nauseum throughout the story—always blame it on the editor), and his in-depth descriptions of places and things.
The story is cleverly written with the twists, turns, and surprises that every good mystery requires. In fact, it is the cleverness of the narration and the witty humor consistently woven throughout the pages that carries the day and makes it a good read. Without it, the story would have eventually sunk into the category of book where the author tries too hard to show how brilliant he is by making the plot exceptionally clever and in the end just annoying the reader. This became painfully obvious to me during the rather long denouement. If it takes that long to explain the mystery, then perhaps it was a bit over-the-top.
As a side note, I found it interesting that while the Australian Stevenson went out of his way to “play fair” and follow the “Ten Commandants of Detective Fiction” set forth by the British author, Ronald Knox, he violated 3-4 rules from the legendary American Elmore Leonard’s “10 Rules for Good Writing,” not that I agree with all of his rules, either. I just found it interesting.
Although the mystery was convoluted and, in the end, contrived, the book was entertaining. The fact that I want to read it again, knowing how it ends, says it all about this exceptionally unique book. I HAPPILY give this book 4 stars.
All thoughts and opinions are my own, no one has asked me to review this book, and I read it for my murder book club!
Until next time,