In Ten Dead Comedians, Fred Van Lente puts a twenty-first century comedic spin on Agatha Christie’s classic mystery, And Then There Were None. Van Lente’s plot and language are clever and witty throughout the pages, as the comedians get killed off one by one on a deserted island. The characters are brilliantly developed throughout each chapter. They include a variety of different types of comedians—from a podcaster to a late night host. Van Lente does a great job highlighting and maintaining each character’s original style. There are really reminiscent of current, real-life comedians (though I don’t know about Oliver Rees…). The characters aren’t particularly fond of one another, which brings about frequent comedic banter. And they each have their own individual vices, making their deaths perhaps less tragic.
This book shares the comedic brilliance of the film, Clue, where the characters struggle to survive and identify the murderer through hilarious chaos. Reading Ten Dead Comedians is like taking a journey through a fun house, or maybe a really, really bad haunted house. Van Lente is a master of irony and creates several scenarios with both subtle and blatant allusions. I love his repeated references to twenty-first century events (such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as president) and slang (like “vaping”). It was really refreshing to read something that was so relevant while also being so absurd at the same time.
One of the best parts of the book is the inclusion of individual monologues and other background material at the end of each chapter. We get a little taste of the comedians’ stand-up routines, and Van Lente masterfully crafts bits that embrace each character’s unique style. But I have to admit that Oliver Rees’ shtick is a little creepy. I can’t imagine actually attending one of his shows, but he fits in perfectly with the collection of misfits on this island. And perhaps Van Lente is poking fun at the readers, knowing that there is a real audience for Orange Baby Man out there.
While riddled with jokes, chaos, and hilarious scenarios, the book is also a well-crafted murder mystery. Van Lente has successfully tapped into Agatha Christie’s genius and created a page-turner that kept me guessing the entire time. The death scenes are ridiculous, but perfectly fitting for those who are on the receiving end. The murders are not scary and, actually, it becomes fun to anticipate how the next character will be taken down. Even though I was perpetually wrong in all of my predictions and assumptions, I was engaged throughout and eager to read more.
The finale is clever, ironic, and developed perfectly. I was convinced I knew who the killer was, but Van Lente’s twists and turns proved me completely wrong. And now knowing the outcome, I find myself wanting to reread the book to see what clues I missed. All in all, this book is unusual but enticing. Quirk Books notoriously publishes clever, unique books that are unlike anything else out there. Van Lente’s genre-bending comedic genius makes for a fun, fast-paced read that will keep you guessing and guffawing until the very end.