“Family is not whose blood runs in your veins, it’s who you’d spill it for.”
― Benjamin Stevenson, Everyone In My Family Has Killed Someone
Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson tells the story of the Cunningham family seen through the eyes of one of the members, Ernest Cunningham – call him Ern or Ernie. Ern is a mystery writer; well to be more specific, he writes ‘how to’ guides for crime and mystery novels. His family has decided to have a family reunion at a remote Australian ski resort. Ern is extremely reluctant to attend, given his family’s history, but he has been told that it’s not optional.
Ern is our narrator. After outlining ten rules to follow, he frequently interjects into the story to tell us necessary back story or to alert the reader to something he just discovered. The most important fact he wants readers to know and remember: everyone in his family has killed someone. With them gathering all together for a family reunion, Ern is obviously concerned not least of all because this will be the first time that he has seen his family in a long time. Ern admits early on that yes, he has killed someone, but he’s not going to tell readers, at least not yet. That’s for us to figure out as the story progresses. After all, everyone in his family has killed someone. Each family member has their own reasons for why they killed someone, but they aren’t for Ern to just blurt out to non-family members.
This book was something I had never read before. It’s not your typical murder mystery. The narrator, Ernest, frequently broke the third wall to have a personal conversation with readers throughout the book. Even while he was doing that, Ernest also weaved an intricate web connecting all the members of his family together. He also acknowledged that we were listening to an audiobook, which I had never had happen to me in an audiobook before. If you decide to listen to this audiobook, this is one where you need to pay close attention! Lots of clues/hints are dropped throughout the novel that will help you solve the many mysteries. I hope the author writes something as original and clever again!
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A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske is set in Edwardian England, with all of it’s rigid formality and strict social rules intact but with one difference – magic exists. However, only a few people know this and fewer still possess magical abilities.
Sir Robin Blyth comes from a noble family but due to his parent’s frivolous ways, he and his sister are left with little money and he must work to keep them afloat. An administrative error assigns him the job of civil service liaison to a hidden magical world, something he had no idea even existed before his first day at work.
Edwin Courcey is a member of a very old magical family, although he has only a small amount of magic himself. He is horrified to find Robin in the Magical Liason office and astonished to discover that he doesn’t even know magic exists. Edwin and Robin take an instant dislike to each other and part ways. However, on his way to resign, Robin is accosted by three strangers wearing mysterious masks, asking him “where is it?”. When he can’t answer (he has no idea what they’re talking about), one of the men places a painful curse on his arm and tells him the curse will only get worse until he gives them what they want.
Well, thinks Robin, this isn’t good. He seeks out Edwin (the only magical person he knows) and Edwin, who has made a study of magic, is intrigued by the curse which appears in intricate curls and patterns on Robin’s arm. At first reluctant, Edwin can’t pass on this intriguing puzzle and thus begins a search for answers that includes murder, foresight, a very dangerous hedge, family drama, secret rooms and magical objects of all kinds including a very protective mansion.
The enemies become friends and then much more over the course of their adventures. The magical world that Marske creates is imaginative and intricate and the characters – good guys and bad – are compelling. You will root for Robin and Edwin both as a couple and as individuals as they stumble their way to solutions. There are elements of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Red, White and Royal Blue and even a touch of Lord of the Rings that combine into something unique and delightful.
The Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart is enjoying a new rebirth thanks to Otto Penzler and his American Mystery Classics series. Originally published in 1942, The Haunted Lady is one of a handful of reprinted mysteries hand selected by Penzler for a new generation of mystery readers. Even though the American Mystery Classic series includes a multitude of vintage authors, the reissued titles have a common theme in their beautifully modern covers that give the books a uniform look and feel. The cover of The Haunted Lady is exactly what drew me to the book in the first place. Known as “the American Agatha Christie”, Rinehart apparently lost popularity after her death in the 1950s. Penzler provides a short history of the author’s work at the beginning of the book. Featuring nurse Hilda Adams, The Haunted Lady is one of three books featuring Adams. Even though this book is the second in the series, picking up the book without reading the first in the series was seamless.
When we meet Hilda Adams, she has been recruited by Inspector Fuller to insert herself into the wealthy Fairbanks household to look after the elderly matriarch Eliza Fairbanks. Mrs. Fairbanks is convinced someone in her household is trying to kill her by initially feeding her arsenic and then by driving her mad with loose bats in her bedroom. Nurse Adams charge is to keep an eye on Mrs. Fairbanks and report back to Inspector Fuller. She meets a cast of characters in the Fairbanks family, and almost immediately more odd occurrences happen. After a murder is committed in a seemingly locked room under Nurse Adams watch, she and Inspector Fuller team up to uncover the baffling truth.
For fans of early 20th century mysteries and cozy mysteries, I recommend The Haunted Lady as well as other novels in the American Mystery Classics series. At the time, Mary Roberts Rinehart was a very popular mystery writer and although not well know today, her mysteries still hold the reader’s attention and keep them guessing as to the culprit. This series reintroduces vintage authors to an entirely new set of readers in today’s world.
A beautiful Victorian house situated in an upscale Philadelphia neighborhood becomes the focal point for a family broken by secrets and jealousy in Ann Patchett’s newest book The Dutch House.
Danny Conroy is just six when his mother leaves and never returns. His father is withdrawn and taciturn – not a model of warmth and caring. However, his sister Maeve, who is 12 when their mother leaves, steps in and becomes his greatest ally. The bond between the siblings is very strong and loving and only strengthens when, out of the blue, their father remarries.
The new stepmother, Andrea arrives with her two little girls. The kids all get along fairly well, but Andrea has no interest in Danny and Maeve and works diligently to exclude them from the family. Maeve is moved from her favored large bedroom to an smaller room so that one of the little girls can have it and the housekeepers, who helped raise Danny and Maeve, are shunted aside. Their father becomes more and more distant, finding as many excuses as possible to be absent.
The Dutch house (as it is known in the neighborhood) stands central to all of these trials. Built by old money, their father purchased it with all of the furniture and family portraits of the former owners included. It was a symbol to Danny and Maeve’s father of his success, but it was also, with it’s overwhelming opulence and expensive furnishings, what drove their mother away. Andrea married their father because she wanted the house and the status that it gave her. When Danny and Maeve are forced to leave the house it haunts them for years.
Now, this all sounds pretty glum and it’s true that the book is sometimes sad, but it is also about forgiveness, redemption and letting go of the past. I loved the relationship between Danny and Maeve, a brother-sister duo that rang true – great loyalty and love but they also aren’t afraid to poke at each other. Patchett’s writing style is lovely – smooth and graceful but never fussy. Her characters are like us – smart and funny and flawed, but never beyond saving. Read this for the intriguing story, the gorgeous writing and an ending that brings hope and recovery.