Another review written by Christian Daoust, who loves science-fiction, murder mysteries, thrillers, comics and graphic novels, and is an avid reader of great books of all kinds. He’s a graduate of Concordia University’s Creative Writing and English lit programs, and holds a degree in Classical Acting for the Professional Theatre from LAMDA, in London, UK.
Some novels take time to warm up, like a car in the winter we’ve been having. It’s tough sitting there at first, but you tell yourself it’ll get better. Some novels leave you out in the cold entirely, like a morning bus that doesn’t show up because it drifted into a snowbank five blocks down. Some novels feel like taking the train, all you have to do is step in and it takes you along for the ride.
I fell for Ten Dead Comedians on page one, and was pleased as punch till the last stop. Known for his work in the comic book industry, author Fred Van Lente takes the blueprint of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and reshapes into a 21st century whodunit with a twist. Nine stand-up comedians are summoned to a remote Caribbean island. As listed on the back cover, they are: a veteran late-night host, a past-her-prime Vegas icon, an overnight sensation with TV deals galore, an absurdly wealthy “blue collar” comic, a washed-up improv instructor, an alcoholic road comic, a radical alt-comedy podcaster, an oft-ridiculed prop comic, a newbie with one open mic to her name. An odd bunch of damaged misfits drawn to the gladiatorial world of stand-up. They’re an odd mix of salty, sweet, and rotten. Exactly what you need on an exotic, murder-island getaway.
What’s the lure? A gig. A chance to work with a legendary comedian who’s become a recluse in retirement. Could this be a comeback? They can practically hear the gravy train’s steam whistle blowing in the distance. Like any comedy club lineup, the stakes are simple: you either kill or you die on stage. Or at least, that’s just what you say in the business, but is one of them actually homicidal? The clues to what connects all these stand-ups are scattered through the novel if you pay close enough attention, which is a real treat for the armchair sleuth.
Good jokes, like good murder plots, are puzzles that only really work if all the pieces are there and the timing is right. Set up, punch line and transition versus means, motive and opportunity; same tune just different lyrics. I’m surprised more serial killers aren’t comedians—or the other way around. The hilarious and the tragic are so closely related they often bleed into each other. It’s all about structure and execution, which is something Van Lente understood well when he sat down to write and it shows. His writing and tone strike a balance that heightens the complex, murderous plot. The story keeps moving while folding in clever interludes to stage sets from the comedians’ pasts, making for a quick and easy read that keeps you guessing, giggling and grimacing.
Ten Dead Comedians doesn’t slow down for atmosphere, or gritty investigative subplots and neither does it stew in its characters’ emotional states. If that’s your cup of tea. It’s deadpan murder delivered in ten parts.