Everyone On This Train is a Suspect, Benjamin Stevenson

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

I'm not going to pretend that I didn't wonder if the dreaded "second book syndrome" would appear with Benjamin Stevenson's EVERYONE ON THIS TRAIN IS A SUSPECT.

This second novel in the series (not his body of work overall), features Ernest Cunningham, of EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE fame, a book, which to be frank never really felt like it was going to leave the possibility of a follow up in its wake. Shortage of people after the accelerated body count being part of the problem, the other being the enclosed space cleverness which felt like it would be a more than a bit difficult to repeat. But Stevenson's a great writer, and sure, this second outing might be a tad more ropey in places than the first, but it's got those elements that readers are within their rights to expect. A locked room (train) mystery, a body with plenty of reasons to die, a lot of odd goings on, and some seriously heightened emotional energy. 

Doesn't hurt that Cunningham is on the train whilst struggling to come up with his second novel, so of course, you just know, that the gathering of the Australian Mystery Writers' Society, a train in the middle of the bush, and some very tricky people, will give him plenty of material for it. Or at least you hope it will, but then you'd also be forgiven, part way through, for wondering if finally, the body count is going to get very close to Cunningham into the bargain.

These novels, despite the somewhat gruesome suggestions in the titles, do scale some giddy heights of entertainment and flat out silly moments (yes I'm aware that sounds crass when you're talking novels about people dying). But they do, with some great success. The humour is observational, frequently a bit scatty, often self-deprecating and gloriously Australian. There's something particularly rewarding about this offering being built around the Ghan, and the dry, hot desert. Obviously makes the environment in both novels as different as it could be, but really does make EVERYONE ON THIS TRAIN feel particularly Australian. And yet, at the same time, it feels like it could be any writers festival, anywhere, with all the experiences, old grudges, pasts and presents feeling particularly raw, and real. Makes you wonder where Stevenson has been a guest recently... but I digress.

EVERYONE ON THIS TRAIN IS A SUSPECT wasn't quite the one sitting reading that the first novel achieved, the ropeyness referred to did stand out, and the emotional tension slightly less convincing - probably because it was trickier to build that around what basically comes across as a group of, mostly, unconnected people chucked into a pressure cooker. This meant a bit of heavy lifting to get connections into place, and a lot more heavy lifting in the personal arena for Cunningham in particular. All in all it only provided small distraction, and probably only if the first novel was still firmly in your head (which, by the way, is most definitely worth reading first if you've not had the pleasure). EVERYONE ON THIS TRAIN IS A SUSPECT may not have quite reached the heights of crazy that the first novel did, but it was crazy enough to be engaging, fun, and compulsively silly.

Year of Publication
Book Number (in series)

Ernest Cunningham returns in a deliciously witty locked room (train) mystery.

When the Australian Mystery Writers’ Society invited me to their crime-writing festival aboard the Ghan, the famous train between Darwin and Adelaide, I was hoping for some inspiration for my second book. Fiction, this time: I needed a break from real people killing each other. Obviously, that didn’t pan out.

The program is a who’s who of crime writing royalty:

the debut writer (me!)

the forensic science writer

the blockbuster writer

the legal thriller writer

the literary writer

the psychological suspense writer

But when one of us is murdered, the remaining authors quickly turn into five detectives. Together, we should know how to solve a crime.

Of course, we should also know how to commit one.

How can you find a killer when all the suspects know how to get away with murder?

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