Wednesday, August 3, 2022


EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE by Benjamin Stevenson (Penguin, 2022)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

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 

It’s clear that award-winning Australian author and standup comedian Benjamin Stevenson is having plenty of fun in his latest mystery novel. After establishing himself with two very good books – the first a true crime-entwined tale set amongst the vineyards of the Hunter Valley, its sequel an ingenious thriller about one million people watching a TV presenter kill themselves on air – Stevenson soaks deeply into the history of the mystery genre with EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE. 

And it’s fabulous.

Ernest ‘Ernie’ Cunningham is a struggling author of crime writing ‘how-to’ guides with a fractured relationship with his infamous family. But he can’t avoid the call to a snowy mountain resort for a ‘modern family’ reunion to mark the release of his brother Michael from prison. It’s a tension-filled weekend from the very beginning. So far, so Agatha Christie. It’s a stressful situation not least because Michael is now with Ernie’s wife, many in the family blame Ernie for Michael being in prison – he did testify, after all – and as the title says, everyone in the Cunningham family has killed someone. “Some of us, the high achievers, have killed more than once,” Ernie tells readers early on. So when a body is uncovered in the snow, seemingly burned despite the icy surrounds, suspects aren’t thin on the ground.

Stevenson delivers a startlingly clever mystery that delights in the longstanding tropes and traditional ‘rules’ of the genre. At the start he outlines Catholic priest and mystery author Ronald Knox’s famous ‘Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction’ from the late 1920s (Knox was a member of the famed Detection Club, alongside the likes of Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, and GK Chesterton). Of primacy: play fair. Our narrator Ernie even tells us from the start that there will be many deaths, and on what pages they’ll occur. Having tied his own hands a little, Stevenson then performs some brilliant sleight of hand and storytelling – giving the readers far more than usual, but still managing to surprise and delight. 

EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE harkens back to Golden Age classics while still providing plenty of freshness and modern perspective. It’s a book that dances with ‘meta’, and is very, very good. Highly recommended. 

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer who's interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at festivals on three continents. He's been a judge of Australian, Scottish, and NZ crime writing awards, and is co-founder of Rotorua Noir. He's the author of the HRF Keating award-shortlisted non-fiction book SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, and the series editor of acclaimed anthology DARK DEEDS DOWN UNDER. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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