In naming his third novel Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone, I think Benjamin Stevenson might have been attempting to rival Adrian McKinty’s Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly. When it comes to book title length I mean!
I’ve very much enjoyed Stevenson’s previous novels, Greenlight and Either Side of Midnight. They both featured a crime documentary-maker and were set in TV land. The lengthily named Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone is a departure, but almost certainly my favourite (of his) to date and I can’t imagine it not being one of my favourite books of the year. And that’s all because of its telling.Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone
by Benjamin Stevenson
Series: Ernest Cunningham #1
Published by Penguin Random House Australia
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Psychological Thriller
I was dreading the Cunningham family reunion even before the first murder.
Before the storm stranded us at the mountain resort, snow and bodies piling up.
The thing is, us Cunninghams don't really get along. We've only got one thing in common- we've all killed someone.
My brother. My step-sister. My wife. My father. My mother. My sister-in-law. My uncle. My stepfather. My aunt. Me
This book is written in first person. Well, in fact it’s second person in that Ernie is actually telling ‘us’ a story. In many ways Stevenson is breaking an age-old writing rule that says to ‘show, not tell’ but here… Ernie is basically telling us everything we need to know. And it’s brilliantly delivered. It’s as if we’re having some chatty conversation with an intelligent and witty narrator who goes off track every so often before reining himself in. And who inserts little ‘asides’ and clarifications when he wants to make sure he’s captured our attention.
A lot of this book doesn’t take place in-real-time or in the present. It’s Ernie relaying events of the past or sharing anecdotes. He’s promised however to be honest with us.
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…
I am both Watson and Detective in this book, where I play both writer and sleuth, and so am obligated to both light upon clues and not conceal my thoughts. In short: play fair.
Actually, I’ll prove it. If you’re just here for the gory details, deaths in this book either happen or are reported to have happened on page 14, page 46, page 65, a two-fer on page 75, and a hat trick on page 81… p 2
Stevenson’s writing and the telling of this story (in first – or second – person) is astoundingly clever. Something incredibly difficult to achieve without the narrator getting in the way. And Ernie doesn’t. There are probably occasions on which there’s more self-awareness than we’d normally see or perhaps a level of self consciousness but we’re very much privy ONLY to what Ernie himself sees and knows. And how he interprets it.
The book centres around a family gathering – a reunion of sorts and we learn Ernie had a role in sending his brother to prison, much to the horror of his family. He’s been invited to Michael’s homecoming however and reluctantly attends.
Stevenson manages to eke out parts of this story (the past and present) expertly so reveals are timed perfectly. Of course it’s enabled by the storytelling approach he’s adopted as Ernie fills us in on what we need to know when we need to know it. Though even he has no idea what’s coming next. Or why.
This was almost a five star read for me but I guess I felt things became a little over-complicated towards the end. There was always going to be a link (obviously) between the crime that had Ernie’s brother Michael jailed and the present deaths, but we go back even further and, though not confusing, it felt a little convoluted. (As an aside, I did like the twist at the very end though hadn’t really felt passionately enough about that incident to feel a sense of relief or closure, but it was satisfyingly left-field.)
I realise it’s only April but this is definitely one of my favourite books of the year (to date) another great book from Stevenson. Stunningly written and cleverly delivered.
Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson was published in Australia by Penguin Random House and is now available.
I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.