By Luke Voogt
Geelong locals can crack open their favourite vintage at home and dive into the mysterious world of thriller writer and comedian Benjamin Stevenson next Thursday.
Stevenson joins fellow up-and-coming crime novelist Kyle Perry in Geelong Regional Library’s Wine and Crime night on September 3.
“Get the cheeseboards out and all that kind of thing,” the 31-year-old told the Independent.
Stevenson’s new book, Either Side of Midnight, tells the story of two twins – a news anchor who shoots himself on air and his grief-stricken brother who is convinced he was murdered.
The title alludes to the two lead characters being born within minutes of each other on different nights, real-life twin Stevenson explained.
“The one who gets killed off is the funny one, the charming one, the successful one,” he said.
“My twin brother is not happy because he thinks he is the one that is killed off.”
A real-life suicide of a news anchor in the US in the 1970s inspired the novel, Stevenson explained.
“I read about that and I was horrified – they didn’t have the live television dumps and those kinds of things that we have now,” he said.
“I took that idea and figured out how that can be a murder at the same time.”
While other authors had “toyed” with “that kind of theme”, Stevenson believed his book was unique.
“After that suicide-murder opening scene there are so many more questions than a whodunit. It’s a how done it and why done it too.
“But at its core, it’s a thrilling crime novel of our detective tracking down a killer.”
The evolution of laws such as involuntary manslaughter to keep pace with social media added another dimension to his research, he said.
“The law has changed from when I started writing the book to when I sent it off to the printers.”
Stevenson hoped he and Perry could provide an interactive escape for viewers as they plummet into the depths of their literary work in next Thursday’s live stream.
Having a hateable villain in a crime novel could be therapeutic for readers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, he explained.
“I hope the book gives them few days of entertainment,” he said.
“It’s more fun to hate a rapscallion murderer in a novel than think about the overarching semi-end of the world that we’re in.”
As a literary agent, Stevenson has worked with some of Australia’s best non-fiction and fiction crime writers.
“I’m kind of the go-to guy for thrillers,” he said.
“I pride myself on picking twists early on in the manuscript.”
As a kid, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series put Stevenson on the path to becoming a literary sleuth.
“I really liked the early ones because they had the twists like Professor Quirrell removing the turban,” he said.
Stevenson is also a stand-up comedian and had been about to board a plane for a 110-show tour when the pandemic hit.
“I was lucky because I was putting the final edits on Either Side of Midnight,” he said.
While he likes to keep comedy and crime writing separate, at times they overlap.
“I think comedians are very good at observing things,” he said.
Like crime writers, comedians often misdirected their audience before the punchline, Stevenson added.
“Once you give the story context it reveals the joke.
“Crime novels are just a long version of that. And there’s certainly black humour that runs through them.”
Along with finishing off his second book, Stevenson proposed to his fiancée during lockdown with a jigsaw of a photo of them together.
“It sounds romantic but in the actual process of doing it there were lots of arguments,” he said.
“Don’t zoom in a high-res photo of your future fiancée and cut it into a thousand of pieces if you want to have a good time.”
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