Monday, 5 June 2017

Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente Review


In his debut novel, Fred Van Lente does Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None - but with comedians! And it’s not bad. 

Many of the characters are thinly-veiled versions of real-life comedians: there’s a Larry the Cable Guy-type, Carrot Top, Ali Wong, George Lopez, and Joan Rivers, to name a few. They’re lured to a private island owned by a famous, rich comic they all have connections to who strangely isn’t there to greet them - and then the comedians start getting killed one by one! 

And Then There Were None (alternately titled Ten Little Niggers/Indians/Soldiers hence Van Lente’s title) is my favourite Agatha Christie novel and a masterpiece but Van Lente, despite being a talented comics writer, isn’t as good a novelist as Christie to make his story as gripping as hers. I think he’s going for both a comedic and thrilling novel and, in splitting his focus on two disparate genres, doesn’t really accomplish either. 

Whereas with Christie the tension builds until you forget you’re even reading, you’re flying through the pages, Van Lente’s story has a stop/start rhythm to it; sometimes it’s exciting, like when a murder happens, but more often than not it’s kinda dull as the characters stand around wondering what to do. 

The story is padded out with excerpts from the comedians’ standup routines which were the worst parts of the book. Full marks to Van Lente for trying, and I realise writing genuinely funny comedy is very hard, but, wow, were these passages unfunny - I didn’t laugh once at anything. Maybe that was the point - to highlight the comedians’ hackery - but it didn’t make for entertaining reading either. 

The premise is still a great one and kept me reading to find out whodunit. I also couldn’t guess who the murderer was (though their motivation for the killings was so stupid) so the mystery is maintained the whole time. Van Lente sporadically wrings enough interesting scenes out of it to make this a decent, quick read on the beach or on a plane. But it’s still a very average book and, if you’ve never read Agatha Christie’s original, I’d highly recommend checking that one out over Ten Dead Comedians.

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