There are many different things that can make a novel a critical darling. It could be the depth of characterization that resonates with the reader. Sometimes the setting is brought to life in such a realistic way that readers feel transported. Or maybe the plot is just so clever and well-constructed that it is impossible not to be impressed with the author’s skill in conceiving it. Even the specific way a story is told can make it a favorite, especially when that style is so unique it feels completely original and cutting-edge. When all those examples—and more—are in play within the same novel, readers know they have stumbled upon a classic-in-the-making, a book that will stand the test of time because it appeals to a wide audience for a variety of reasons. That is the experience most readers will have when they pick up Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson.
Alone, the plot of Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone would pique enough interest to cause most readers to investigate further, but by the end of the Prologue, it will be clear how different this novel will be. It’s in the telling where Benjamin Stevenson truly shines.
The Cunningham family—one that happens to be populated by criminals—is gathering at a secluded ski resort to celebrate a family reunion of sorts. If anyone is honest, it is mainly the release from prison of Ernest’s brother that has necessitated the gathering. The only problem is that Ernest was responsible for getting his brother convicted, so everyone is on pins and needles waiting to see how their first interaction will proceed. The first sentence of the novel—the same as the book’s title—tells us that every member of this family has killed someone and now Ernest wants to tell us, the reader, all about that. So, it is a shock to neither the Cunningham Family nor the reader that even before the entire group has gathered, a dead body is discovered.
But Ernest, a devotee of crime fiction, has already told the reader that he knows all the tricks of the crime genre and wants to assure them that he is not playing games, he’s not an unreliable narrator, and that his telling of the story is completely fair play, so that the reader can truly investigate as the storyline unspools. To prove this, he even tells the reader in the Prologue the page number on which every death in the novel will take place. And there are fourteen deaths. Ernest stops his recitation and directly addresses the reader telling them to hold him accountable (unless of course the typesetter screwed up and the page numbers shifted.) At this point, the reader will—and should—laugh and will suddenly understand exactly what kind of narrator Ernest is going to be.
Ernest will continually break the fourth wall, addressing the reader directly. He is hilarious in all his observations, both about his family and about the world. The plot of the novel is complex—in that it has many characters, a wide timeline, and more than enough family secrets to fill Fort Knox—so when things get to a critical point, he will stop and go over what we know, what we have learned, and what readers might still need answers for. It’s almost like having someone hold your hand as you are reading the novel, keeping you invested. Not that there was ever a chance that any crime fiction fan could or would stop reading.
Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone is very much of the cozy tradition. There is no sex, light language, and any excessive violence—remember, there are fourteen deaths—is kept off the page. Like many cozy mysteries, humor and laugh-out-loud moments dominate. But there is also some intangible element that allows this book to resonate with readers who typically prefer darker, grittier crime novels as well. It’s a masterclass on how to appeal to the widest possible audience without compromising the trademarks that make each sub-genre so unique.
Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone is an award-worthy novel that uses the history of our beloved genre to full effect. It will have readers cracking up one minute, shaking their head with incredulity the next, and gripping the pages in tense worry throughout. (And, most will never look at an oven mitt the same way again after they reach that particular page.)
It’s only January and already Benjamin Stevenson’s Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone has staked its claim as the crime novel of 2023. Could another book come along that surpasses this totally original, one-of-a-kind read? Sure it’s possible…miracles do happen. But if that is the case, then really the reader is the winner, as that will have to be another truly unforgettable novel. Until then, re-reads of Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone will have to do.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.