Toriaz

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Stuart Turton

Also known as The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle


Reviewed by: Toriaz
Category: Crime Fiction
Date Read: 4 September 2018
No. Pages: 505
Published: 2018

‘We have work to do,’ he says. ‘I have a puzzle which requires a solution.’

‘I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else,’ I say angrily. ‘I’m a doctor.’.

‘You were a doctor,’ he says. ‘Then a butler, today a playboy, tomorrow a banker. None of them is your real face, or your real personality. Those were stripped from you when you entered Blackheath and they won’t be returned until you leave.’

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle page 80

What would it have been like if Agatha Christie had watched Groundhog Day and decided to take the idea of repeating a day over and over again until you get it right and applying it to one of her country house murders? And while she was at it, also deciding to throw Westworld, Doctor Who and Quantum Leap into the mix, just to spice it up? That’s the mind-bending idea behind this book. It’s confusing as hell, but about the most original murder mystery I’ve ever read.

Aiden Bishop finds out that he is trapped in the body of a ‘host’, and that a murder will occur that evening. The day will repeat for eight days to give him a chance to solve the murder, but each day he will wake in a different host, remembering what happened on each of the previous days. But if he doesn’t solve the murder by the end of the eighth day, the loop resets, and he returns to day one, with his memory wiped clean. You get the feeling that the loop has already been repeated many times, but you don’t find out just how many times, or even why this is happening until the end. So, there is the surface mystery to be solved of who killed Evelyn and the secondary mystery of just who Aiden is and why he has been trapped in this seemingly endless loop from which he has little hope of escaping.

Apart from the complexity of jumping between hosts and keeping track of what is happening to him, Aiden also has to compete with several others who, like him, are trapped until they solve the mystery. Only one of them can leave, so they can’t work together to solve the case. And to further complicate things, a murderous footman is determined to kill all of the hosts. And on top of all this, the personalities of Aiden’s hosts get stronger each day, and he finds it harder and harder to subdue their various personalities and keep his own memories from previous days intact.

The setting of this story appears at first to be a typical English country manor house party set in the early 1920s. But the gloomy setting, the crumbling, isolated manor, the family tragedy (Evelyn’s younger brother was murdered here 19 years ago), the beautiful girl in need of saving and the supernatural elements also give this the feel of a gothic horror story.

The story is told as a first person narrative, so we see and feel everything that Aiden goes through each day. The plot is incredibly complicated, with constant twists and turns. Every time I thought I had an idea of what was going on, I’d turn the page and find another plot twist. To add to the complications, it isn’t even a straight linear timeframe. Instead of going day to day, progressing sedately through his hosts, Aiden is thrown back and forward between them. At the beginning I tried to keep track of what was happening by using post-it notes to mark where significant events happened, but I gave up on that after a few chapters when it seemed like I was marking every page and was about to run out of post-it notes. I shouldn’t have removed all of these notes from my book, it might have been an interesting exercise to go back over these and see how many of the significant events I picked and just how many I missed.

Although I absolutely loved this book and will recommend it to everyone, it did have an area where I thought it could be improved. We don’t find out much about who Aiden actually is or why he is in Blackheath until near the end of the book. I think it could make the book even better if we found this out earlier, and had Aiden been even more conflicted over who to trust and how to behave, as he balances his initial motivations with who he and the others have become due to their time at Blackheath. But this is a minor quibble, and with how complex the story already is, and how many plot elements Turton had to juggle to keep everything fitting together, this probably would be a big ask to add to the mix.

With a few of the mysteries I’ve read over the past year or so, I’ve loved them until close to the end, then had them lose it a bit for me. I’ve felt let down by a book being wrapped up too quickly, or by there being too many coincidences in the final chapters that strained credibly too far, such as I felt happened in Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. But I didn’t get that sense of a letdown with this book. The twists kept coming and they stayed satisfying up to the very end. This book was unputdownable, but at the same time it benefits from being read slowly, to fully saturate yourself in the world Turton has created. I am in awe at the complex world Turton has created, like one of those ‘impuzzlable’ jigsaw puzzle where you can’t imagine how someone could ever see the full picture and put the whole thing together. I bet he went through quite a few packs of post-it notes when he worked the whole thing out!

If you love mysteries and thrillers, or just complex & well-crafted stories, read this book. You won’t regret it.

Stuart Turton