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Book 51

Ten Dead Comedians: A Murder MysteryTen Dead Comedians: A Murder Mystery by Fred Van Lente

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I received an ARC via Netgalley and Quirk books but that in no way influenced my review. This book is an homage to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (Otherwise known as Ten Little Indians after the nursery rhyme which, sad to say, had an even more offensive racial title back in the 30s, think N word). The plot was lifted directly from her work and it’s one most mystery readers will know even if they’ve never read Dame Christie’s book as it’s been done a thousand times (I just saw a rerun of the Murder, She Wrote version of it the other day). I wanted to read this one because it sounded fun and I know the author from some of the comic book work.

The twist this time is they’re all comedians at various stages in their careers with one connection: they all credit Dustin Walker, their host, with being their inspiration. You’re quickly introduce to the nine comics in short chapters, Steve who once was on a TV show with Walker but whose career tanked and he’s now teaching improv (and he has a dark secret that is referenced through much of the novel before being revealed), TJ who also worked on that show but went on to be a relatively big deal with another TV show (and hates Steve) and makes his Hispanic heritage a big part of who he is, Dante, an African America comic (who might not be as street as he pretends) and alcoholic with rage issues, Ollie, a prop comic who does an act Orange Baby Man (who comes across as a cross between the Blue Man group, Pee Wee Herman and Ned Flanders in his abhorrence of bad language and mean humor), Bill the Mechanic, who’s snobby and wealthy pretending to be blue collar ala Larry the Cable Guy, Janet who reminds me of Joan Rivers only more obsessed on making her vagina part of her act, Zoe who’s a bit of a stereotype: the neurotic Jewish woman, and Ruby, the Vietnamese lesbian who does podcast humor. Rounding out the 10th comic could be either Walker himself or Meredith his African-British gal Friday and comic wanna be.

Walker has lured them all to a private island, to his estate there, all of them thinking this comic legend is going to help their careers but in short order they’re shown a recording of him accusing them of crimes against comedy and of him committing suicide. Following Christie’s template, they can’t reach the outside world (no internet, no cell phone reception) and one by one they start getting picked off until well...there was none.

To be honest it wasn’t too hard to figure out who the killer was and why (that really wasn’t the point I don’t think) but it was an entertaining read. I will say that not ever character is as well drawn as the others with the ladies suffering more from this lack of depth than the men. Ruby is the best drawn of the women, an overly sensitive, overly aggressive feminist who sees men as the enemy (there’s no subtly to her feminism which, as a feminist, I found disappointing). TJ and Dante are also aggressive and very unlikeable to be honest. Actually only Ollie, in his child like innocence (child like in an arrested development sort of way) was nice and he is abused badly by the others as not being a ‘real comic’ because of his type of act (ironically he’s the richest, most successful of them). His pain at their mockery is the most real emotion in the whole novel.

And that is maybe one of the bigger failures of the novel: not a lot of emotional depth. Sometimes we’re in their heads but often there is a great narrative distance which keeps you from really engaging the reader. In fact, for some reason many of them are referred to by first and last name throughout and I found that irksome. There was one point I was very annoyed by a very obviously wrong death scene but power on. It’s actually a clue. I was a little disappointed by who was the last comic standing only because I didn’t like the character but it made sense that comic was the one to solve it.

As I said I did have an ARC so I didn’t take formatting into consideration but it was atrocious in mine so I hope it gets fixed. Also large chunks were in red and I wasn’t sure if that it was an editing left over from either adding to or maybe highlighting for removal and I’m rather hoping the latter. It was in the sections where we were getting to see parts of the comic’s acts (which were dispersed through the book) and honestly they went on rather long and oddly not that funny (at least to me. Humor is one of the hardest things to write because it’s so subjective). There are several post Trump election references as well (I’m imagining were added after the first draft as I don’t think a publishing schedule could take something from start to finish in less than five months without it really showing).



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Tags: mystery
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