‘Sup readers? It’s that time again— On The Shelf has returned to Fan Fest with a short, sweet (more like salty, but I love me some salt) debut novel by Harvey Award nominee Fred Van Lente. Ten Dead Comedians: A Murder Mystery is 288 pages of thrills, chills, and claws-unsheathed, fangs-bared satire. Wait. I’m making this sound like a horror novel. But it’s not.
Seriously. Ten Dead Comedians is an homage to such genre building blocks as Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None— but for those of us who are uncultured swine (like myself) who have never picked up a book from the Golden Age of Mystery, it just read like a snappy social commentary in the style of The Hunger Games/a pulpy B-list horror movie for adults. But let’s slow the roll, back up a bit, and break down the basics after popping this lovely disclaimer right here:
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley. However, all opinions expressed are my own.
Okay, good, we’re all squared away. Back to the book. Ten Dead Comedians: A Murder Mystery follows nine very different comedians at various points in their careers— among the personalities introduced, there’s comedy’s new “It Girl,” who’s taking the world by storm with her own Netflix series, a disgraced improv instructor, a road comic who hits the sauce like the second coming of Prohibition is right around the corner, and a keyboard warrior podcaster who is the embodiment of what happens when political correctness/playing the victim becomes a lifestyle choice—. Each of the nine is summoned via text message to come to a tropical island at the behest of legendary comedian, Dustin Walker, who wants them to collaborate on a secret project that’s bound to blow the doors off modern comedy.
Quite frankly, if someone invites me to what appears to be a paradisaical island getaway, I’m going to lie and say my mom told me I couldn’t go (You: Jessica, you’re an adult. Me: Yeah, and? My friend, let me direct you to some 48 Hours episodes and Dateline specials. There are a lot of ways to die on a secluded island, one of which includes starvation. Have you never seen Cast Away? I mean, bad example, because Chuck Noland lived, but still. You have fun on your island, I’m going to stock up on Tropical Breeze hand soap and call it a day). But that’s just me, clearly, because all of the invited attendees jump at the chance to bask in Dustin Walker’s comedic glow. But when they get there via boat, they discover that the island is deserted. There’s no Dustin, there’s barely any food, and worst of all, the WiFi password doesn’t work. Okay, wait, I might have exaggerated: the WiFi is the second worst thing about that Godforsaken island; the first is that they’re all being murdered in horrific and gratuitous ways. No one knows how and no one knows why, but they’re all suspects, and the goal of this hellish comedic retreat shifts from discovering new relevance to finding new and creative ways to stay alive.
It’s actually kind of hilarious, once you get past the whole murder mystery thing (or does that just add to it?)
Anyway. Van Lente’s humour is a well-recognized aspect of his career as a writer, whether he’s scripting a comic or penning a mass-produced novel. Ten Dead Comedians is no exception. Razor-sharp, this book pulls no punches and no one is safe. It hearkens back to what comedy should be, while effortlessly threading a murder mystery through pages drenched in delightfully cutting snark that will resonate with a contemporary audience. Savagely funny, Ten Dead Comedians is the summer read I wanted (literally. I preordered a physical copy, which I never do) but didn’t know I needed. I don’t have anything negative or nitpick-y to say about this novel, it was smartly self-aware from start to finish. I’m recommending this one simply because of (despite?) Van Lente’s ballsy satirical grasp that might hurt the feelings of millennials, and his deftness at writing nine well-developed, unique voices in one short, standalone novel. Honestly, it was kind of mind-blowing, when you sit back and think about it for more than five seconds (am I enjoying the satire a little too much?)
Ten Dead Comedians: A Murder Mystery absolutely has a place on my shelf, and if it sounds like your kind of read, you can snag a copy here.