Literacy 2024: Book 2: Everyone on This Train is a Suspect

The sequel to Benjamin Stevenson’s metatextual murder mystery Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone

Book
Everyone on This Train is a Suspect by Benjamin Stevenson

Synopsis
After the success of his memoir Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone, Ernest Cunningham is invited on a book tour with other crime and mystery writers, on board a luxury train traveling from the north end of Australia to the south. While he’s struggling to write a fictional follow-up to his previous book, one of the passengers is murdered, forcing him into another true-crime memoir.

Pros

  • Fast-moving and engaging; I hadn’t intended to jump into the sequel immediately, but it was available on Libby and I finished it in just a few sittings.
  • A bit more even-handed with the “telling the rules of the story while the story is being told” gimmick
  • Commits to the “fair-play murder mystery” rule, with information given out around the same time the narrator figures it out, and never directly contradicted later on.
  • Genuinely funny and clever in places.
  • I loved the format of the epilogue and how it was delivered.
  • Makes good use of the setting and what’s unique about a train journey through Australia.
  • Used the title to add a bit of depth to the story, reconsidering his role as the narrator and turning it into something of a love story.
  • Introduced the clever idea of the other characters being aware that they’re characters in a murder mystery, and trying to control how their role in the story is presented.

Cons

  • The gag that I’d thought was genuinely funny and clever was reused a couple too many times, I said, disappointedly.
  • One of the few times I’ve had to say out loud while reading a book, “This is so corny.
  • A couple of what I assumed to be the standout puzzles or clues were insultingly obvious, in my opinion. I tend not to read murder mysteries very closely, but I figured out the solutions (if not the full implication) immediately, and the book kept referring to them over and over as if they were some intriguingly perplexing conundrum.
  • Even after I’d figured out the “shape” of the story and its subplots, I still felt that the actual details (and the identity of the guilty parties) required deductive leaps I couldn’t have made on my own.
  • Many of the characters are overly broad stereotypes โ€” too cartoonish to seem real, but not funny enough to work as comic relief.

Verdict
One star, ghastly. But seriously, I thought this was better than the first book. I read part of an interview with Stevenson in which he said his goal was to counteract the tendency of crime fiction (especially Australian crime fiction) to be much too dark, and he wanted to bring back some levity and the fun of “golden age” murder mysteries. By that standard, it works: they’re fun, engaging stories to try and solve. But I can’t shake the sense that they’re writing down to the perceived level of the audience, especially since this book so aggressively takes down a literary fiction snob. There are some interesting things going on with a metatextual story in which the characters are aware they’re in a story, but it doesn’t do enough with the idea.

I feel like I might appreciate the gimmick more if I’d never read the Hawthorne and Horowitz series, but as it is, the book has the feeling of “We have Anthony Horowitz at home.” (Which seems mean of me to say, but Stevenson is doing very well with the books, by all accounts, and the first is going to be turned into a series. I can’t imagine he’s particularly heartbroken by a stranger on the internet saying it’s “fine but not great.”)