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Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone


Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone

Benjamin Stevenson combines a riveting whodunit with a witty and sharply self-referential look at mystery fiction in EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE, which not only lives up to its wacky and absurd title, but delivers far more than plain shock.

“Everyone in my family has killed someone. Some of us, the high achievers, have killed more than once.” So begins your introduction to the Cunningham family: leary of the law and downright distrustful of police, yet exceedingly loyal to one another, even when they shouldn’t be. And then there’s Ernest “Ernie” (sometimes the ominous-sounding “Ern”) Cunningham, the book's narrator. He has taken up the role of Sherlock, Watson and suspect, identities he alone is qualified to define as the author of a series of semi-popular “how-to” books on writing mysteries and thrillers.

"Written in a witty, conversational tone that breaks the fourth wall more than it doesn’t, this is a uniquely constructed mystery that starts with a dead body and numerous killers...and somehow becomes more mysterious, more shocking and ever more riveting as it goes on."

An academic of the works of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernie leans on Ronald Knox’s “10 Commandments of Detective Fiction,” which range from the necessity of a criminal being mentioned early on in a story to the rule that accidents and unaccountable intuitions must never help the detective. Knox’s rules --- and Ernie’s adherence to them --- are representative of the Golden Age of mystery, when puzzle-based mysteries flooded the genre and became immensely popular. Growing up in a family of killers, it makes sense that Ernie has such a vested interest in crime fiction. He just never expected to wind up in one himself.

Three years ago, Ernie’s brother, Michael, arrived on his doorstep breathless, wrinkled and with a dead body in his backseat. Loyal but even more curious, Ernie accompanied Michael as he drove to a remote clearing to bury the corpse, a man he claimed was dead of a gunshot when he struck him with his car. All appears to be going according to (traumatic, devastating) plan when the victim makes a noise, his dry lips burbling with red bubbles. Ernie believes that Michael is saved: the two can deliver the man to a hospital, and no one will be any the wiser. But then his brother makes a deliberate, definitive move and kills him for good. Cunningham loyalty aside, Ernie feels he has no choice but to report his actions to the authorities. Following a shockingly brief trial, Michael is sentenced to three years in prison.

Now Michael’s years are up. Katherine, Ernie’s teetotaling, obsessive aunt has planned an elaborate reunion for the entire family at a remote chateau in the snowy mountains. Not only will it be the first time that they will see Michael since his sentencing, it also will be the first time that Ernie and his mother, Audrey --- who blames him for tearing apart their family --- will be in close contact, as well as the first time that Ernie and his ex-wife, Erin (“we met alphabetically,” they used to quip), and Michael and his ex-wife, Lucy, will see each other in person. To add to the drama, Michael and Erin have mysteriously, unpredictably become lovers in the time that he has been imprisoned, fracturing the already hyphenated family in more ways than one.

There’s just one problem: on the family’s first night at the lodge, a man is found dead on the slopes. He seems to have died of exposure, and none of the Cunninghams recognize him. Yet, when even a single Cunningham is on the scene --- let alone a slew of them --- it is inevitable that one or more of them will be arrested. As our narrator has warned us from the first page, they are all killers. But only one of them is a murderer.

In twisty, cleverly constructed chapters, Stevenson and our narrator guide us through the events of both the family reunion and the killing that set them on their fractured path in the first place. But even the murder Michael committed was layered and complex, and its repercussions reverberate not just to the present but far back to the death of Ernie and Michael’s father. With the suspects piling up and Ernie taking on the semi-reluctant (he is curious, after all) role of detective, sidekick and suspect, it becomes obvious that someone is setting up the Cunninghams. But is it one of their own, set on revenge, or someone who (perhaps rightfully) wants to see the family fall?

Written in a witty, conversational tone that breaks the fourth wall more than it doesn’t, this is a uniquely constructed mystery that starts with a dead body and numerous killers (along with a list of the murders that will occur throughout the book) and somehow becomes more mysterious, more shocking and ever more riveting as it goes on. Perfect for readers who love formulas and logic, this puzzle-driven mystery feels like the game of Clue on steroids, an effortless mashup of Knives Out/Glass Onion and the classic mysteries of Agatha Christie. Yet it also brings to the table something new and wholly its own: a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sleight of hand that delivers with every reveal, plot twist and emotional arc.

Whether you’re tired of the trend of psychological thrillers and unreliable narrators, or simply an aficionado of the Golden Age of mystery, EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE --- and its surprisingly reliable narrator --- is a refreshing, deviously clever and unexpectedly funny mystery perfect for fans of Peter Swanson, Ruth Ware and David Bell.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on January 27, 2023

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone
by Benjamin Stevenson

  • Publication Date: January 17, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books
  • ISBN-10: 0063279029
  • ISBN-13: 9780063279025