Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is probably the most famous fictional murder-mystery, and has launched countless inspired tales since its 1939 publication that use the “locked room” setting. Even if you’ve never read the novel, you know how this type of whodunit goes — a group of people are lured to an isolated location and are killed off one by one, leaving everyone a suspect. Now what if the people being murdered were comedians? That’s what we get in Fred Van Lente‘s Ten Dead Comedians, which gets a paperback release from Quirk Books this week.
Van Lente’s version takes its name from one of Christie’s original titles for the tale, Ten Little Indians (the name of the nursery rhyme featured in the book), and gives it a modern-day setting at a private Caribbean island owned by Dustin Walker, a legendary comedian who became a household name after starring in a string of 1990s movies in the Help! I Married a Cat franchise.
Yes, that’s right, a series of movies about a guy married to a cat. Forget the murder-mystery, I want to see these cat movies!
Anyhow, Walker’s assistant and protege contacts 8 other comedians of various subgenres and stages of their careers — a veteran late-night talk show host, a props comic, a radical podcaster, a blacklisted former TV comic now teaching improv, to name a few — and entices them all with the promise of a collaboration with her boss. Not surprisingly, they all jump at the chance to venture to the island, since Walker was not only a major influence on all of them, but he’s more successful, too, and they’re all desperate enough to want to hitch their wagons to the Hollywood star.
But once they get to the island, everything goes south. One by one, the guests are found murdered, food is running low, and get this — the WiFi password doesn’t work!!! Will anyone survive this nightmare?
Ten Dead Comedians is seriously hilarious. Even under threat of death, the comedians can’t help but be funny, which keeps the story lighthearted, even when some of the situations are grotesque. With a story like this, you’re tasked with having to familiarize yourself with a large cast of main characters, which can be daunting, especially when we’re supposed to care that they’re being killed off. Thankfully, Van Lente gets the introductions done quickly and makes his characters memorable. It helped, too, that interspersed throughout the book are spotlights on each comics’ routine, so we further get to know them through these. These insights were some of the best parts of the book. As the story goes on, it becomes more obvious which real-life comics inspired these fictional counterparts.
Van Lente is best known for his work in the comic book industry, with titles from Marvel (Marvel Zombies, X-Men, Deadpool) and Valiant Comics (Archer & Armstrong), but in his first prose novel, he absolutely nails comedy.
A note on the cover: While I thought the hardcover artwork was clever, with its chalk outline with a microphone cord around the neck, the paperback cover is more eye-catching. It shows a moonlit multi-level house with silhouetted victims in the windows being murdered in various ways, in an homage to posters for the movie Clue, another classic whodunit. Upon close inspection, it’s pretty morbid — murders in action! — but on a whole, it’s more attractive and its cartoonish design style is better representative of the humor expressed within by the characters.
Ten Dead Comedians is a real page-turner and such a satisfying read. After the character introductions, that was it, I was not putting the book down until I learned what crimes against comedy these people committed and who the hell the murderer was. A great selection for any time, but perfect if you want to really delve into something and not come out for a while.
Now in paperback, Fred Van Lente’s brilliant debut is both a savagely funny homage to the Golden Age of Mystery and a thoroughly contemporary show-business satire.
As the story opens, nine comedians of various acclaim are summoned to the island retreat of legendary Hollywood funnyman Dustin Walker. The group includes a former late-night TV host, a washed-up improv instructor, a ridiculously wealthy “blue collar” comic, and a past-her-prime Vegas icon. All nine arrive via boat to find that every building on the island is completely deserted. Marooned without cell phone service or wifi signals, they soon find themselves being murdered one by one. But who is doing the killing, and why?
A darkly clever take on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and other classics of the genre, Ten Dead Comedians is a marvel of literary ventriloquism, with hilarious comic monologues in the voice of every suspect. It’s also an ingeniously plotted puzzler with a twist you’ll never see coming!