“Ten Dead Comedians” by Fred Van Lente

Ten Dead ComediansWhen I first read Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None many years ago, I was amazed at how audacious a book published in 1939 could be. (That’s not even taking into consideration the whodunit’s original title, which is not so much audacious as just plain offensive.) On Christie’s island, there were no good guys, no Marple or Poirot… and no survivors.

Writing a contemporary riff on one of Christie’s most famous novels is also a pretty bold move. Fred Van Lente populates his island with stand-up comics, ranging from wannabes and has-beens to huge stars. They have all been summoned by Dustin Walker, an enormously successful comedian who starred in a blockbuster movie called “Help! I Married A Cat” and its many sequels. Ever since the failure of “Help! I Married A Cat: The New Litter” in 2009, Walker has been laying low, but now he’s plotting a comeback, and everyone wants in.

Anyone who follows the comedy scene will have no trouble matching Van Lente’s fictional stand-ups to their real-life counterparts: Billy the Contractor, a Larry the Cable Guy type whose catchphrase is “Fix ‘er up!”; Janet Kahn, an aging insult comic with a yen for plastic surgery a la Joan Rivers; Zoe Schwartz, a foul-mouthed comedian in the Sarah Silverman/Amy Schumer vein; and Oliver Rees, whose act seems to be a sort of hybrid of Gallagher, Carrot Top and the Blue Man Group. It’s plausible that a down-on-his-luck comic like Steve Gordon, reduced to teaching improv at corporate team-building events, would be willing to hightail it to Walker’s island, but would a high-maintenance celeb like Janet really show up sans entourage, even if she does see it as an opportunity to recover from her latest face lift?

If you can suspend your disbelief, this is a fun, quick read, though the solution (while clever) shows just how difficult it is to go toe-to-toe with Dame Agatha, even after almost 80 years.

Note: Ten Dead Comedians will be published on July 11, 2017. Thanks to Quirk Books (via NetGalley) for the review copy.

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