“Everyone on This Train Is a Suspect”

Melanie Ho in the Asian Review of Books: It’s the Australian Mystery Writers’ Festival and debut author Ernest Cunningham is one of the participating writers. Cunningham arrives at the festival—hosted on the Ghan, the famous train that goes from Darwin to Adelaide—following the publication of his memoir Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone (also, the title of author Benjamin Stevenson’s novel that first introduces Cunningham) and is, having signed a six-figure advance, now stuck trying to find an idea for a novel. 

He’s not stuck much longer. Soon there’s a murder on the train, and with all the festival participants and guests stuck on the Ghan, Cunningham gets to work to solve the murder and get the material he needs for his next book. As Cunningham narrates: Seven writers board a train. At the end of the line, five will leave it alive. One will be in cuffs.

Everyone on This Train Is a Suspect is Stevenson’s pacey and entertaining follow-up to his first Cunningham novel. While Stevenson, via Cunningham, notes that all of the conventions of the genre will be followed, Stevenson breaks the fourth wall from the opening page and maintains his meta, direct-to-audience style throughout. Early in the novel Cunningham introduces his structural notes for when certain events need to have occurred, including that by 10,000 words the characters, victims and suspects need to be introduced…

His take on the crime novel conventions (Stevenson is also an agent at Curtis Brown Australia) is matched by the conventions of writers and of literary festivals. A one-star review on Goodreads by one of the fellow festival authors increases Cunningham’s anxiety that he doesn’t deserve to mix with the festival’s other writers, while his agent—aboard for another client—tasks Cunningham with writing 5,000 words by the time the train arrives in Adelaide. There are old wounds and scores to settle, along with the customary debate between literary and commercial fiction. Too much alcohol is matched with big egos and bigger aspirations. All which Stevenson deftly integrates with the murder and with his narrator’s errors and successes along the way… More here.