Four Fiendish Tales of Murder

Ernest Cunningham, the star of Benjamin Stevenson’s second meta-mystery, EVERYONE ON THIS TRAIN IS A SUSPECT (Mariner, 336 pp., $30), promises at the outset “to be that rarity in modern crime novels: a reliable narrator. You can count on me for the truth at every turn. No hoodwinking.” Of course, any seasoned mystery reader knows that a reliable narrator doesn’t really exist. They may faithfully convey the truth, only to fool themselves.

Ernest displayed some of this disconnect in his first outing, “Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone,” where he outwitted a serial killer “picking off my extended family one by one.” Now Stevenson plops him in the middle of a crime writers’ festival taking place aboard an opulent train traveling through the Australian desert from Darwin to Adelaide. Think “Murder on the Orient Express,” but where every character (and suspect) writes in a different genre category.

“Seven writers board a train. At the end of the line, five will leave it alive. One will be in cuffs.”

It’s fun and diverting, with a plethora of red herrings. What gives the book weight is Ernest’s relationship with his girlfriend Juliette, one that challenges the very heart of whose story gets told, and which mystery is solved.

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