Last year, it seemed as though everyone who picked up Benjamin Stevenson’s debut, Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone, came away from the experience calling themselves a devoted fan. They will be happy to know that the second novel featuring Ernest Cunningham, Everyone on This Train is a Suspect, is not only just as strong as that debut, but in many ways exceeds the expectations set by the earlier novel. Everyone on This Train is a Suspect will not only delight those existing fans, but will further cement Benjamin Stevenson as a powerhouse in the crime community who continues to amass fans with his unique and unforgettable books.
As hinted at by the title, Everyone on This Train is a Suspect is set aboard the Ghan, a famous train that travels the height of Australian from Darwin to Adelaide. This thereby sets up the perfect setting for a closed-circle mystery.
Once again, our narrator is the quirky crime writer himself, Ernest Cunningham, joined by his now-girlfriend Juliette, whom readers of the first novel will remember—with varying degrees of affection and trust. The purpose for this journey is the celebrated Australian Mystery Writers Festival which will be taking place aboard the train. Also in attendance are a host of other mystery writers and behind-the-scenes publishing staff.
To give fans of crime fiction a sense of the subgenres represented by these characters, readers are introduced to a psychological suspense writer, a literary mystery author, a practitioner of legal thrillers, a forensic science writer, and perhaps topping them all—the author of a blockbuster series that is beloved by (seemingly) everyone.
Ernest Cunningham is hoping to find inspiration for his hotly anticipated second novel while traveling on the Ghan and attending publishing panels—but given that his first “book” was a bit of a true crime memoir, he’s hoping for something a bit less hands-on this time out. That is, of course, before the dead body of one of the authors is discovered shortly after the conference begins.
As with Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone, Benjamin Stevenson uses Everyone on This Train is a Suspect as a vehicle to skewer the crime fiction genre in fun ways, while also exposing some truths that lie behind the façade of publishing. Anyone who has attended a crime fiction festival/convention will recognize many of the set-pieces here: multi-author panels (where someone is bound to say something controversial), evening gatherings in the event bar (where gossip flows faster than the drinks), and private hallway/stateroom conversations (where truths are often revealed.)
As with his debut, Benjamin Stevenson plays with structure here and often has Ern breaks the fourth wall—addressing the reader directly, both as a means to tease the plot developments for them and as a way of helping them to suss out the culprit. This leads to many laugh-out-loud moments and some clever misdirection that would be impossible in more traditional storytelling methods. Don’t try this at home, Stevenson is clearly a master at this method and has staked his claim on it for generations to come.
Anyone who follows publishing business and its many trials and tribulations will recognize many of the scandals and gossip hinted at throughout Everyone on This Train is a Suspect. Even less “serious” debates—like the quandary over the Oxford Comma—get their moment in the spotlight, to the delight of grammarians everywhere.
By the end, Benjamin Stevenson brings this very complex puzzle to a most satisfying conclusion when the final pieces snap into place, not unlike LEGO-building the next wonder of the world. There is so much life left in this series, so readers will have to wait patiently to see what part of the publishing world Benjamin Stevenson will expose next. In the meantime, both of his novels—Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone and Everyone on This Train is a Suspect—are worthy of re-reading.
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.