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The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle


The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

There are very few books that I have called “unputdownable,” but there is no better word to describe Stuart Turton’s masterful debut, THE 7½ DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE. Set in and around a remote, dilapidated manor known as Blackheath House, this eerie, suspenseful novel asks us what we would do if we could change the past, alter the future, and escape the twisted circle of time with our lives.

The book opens with a smash as we meet a confused and terrified narrator who is running through a forest with no idea who or where he is. If the scene sounds confusing, it definitely is, but what could be a weightless, mind-boggling introduction turns into an epic page-turner in Turton’s deft hands. As our narrator begins to realize that he is not in his proper body, a chase takes off, and he is forced to run for his life while witnessing a woman lose hers. The narrator is soon revealed to be Aiden Bishop, and a meeting with an enigmatic man dressed as a plague doctor --- beak and all --- explains his task.

Aiden came to Blackheath on his own, but now he is stuck in an endless loop where he will be forced to repeat the day of Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder eight times --- in a different body each time. On each repetition of the day, Aiden will awake with yesterday’s knowledge, but also with the restraints that come with each host --- an aging body, a flighty mind and violent tendencies among some of the more memorable traits. By the end of the eighth day, Aiden must find the plague doctor and tell him exactly who murdered Evelyn. The problem is that nearly everyone has a motive, including the men Aiden comes to inhabit, and Blackheath thrives on rumors, lies and blackmail.

"Turton has crafted a perfectly plotted mystery, and his characters’ motivations are believable, morally gray and compulsively readable. The tension grabs you from the very first page and does not let go for one second."

Aiden is not sure how many times he has completed the traumatic eight-day loop before, but this time, he has been left with a single searing memory: the name “Anna.” Using his wits, the knowledge of his hosts and some cleverly placed clues, Aiden must figure out who killed Evelyn and who Anna is, and what she means to him. Oh, and steer clear of a knife-wielding footman who is hell-bent on eliminating Aiden and his hosts before he can solve the murder.

What at first glance looks like a murder-mystery dinner party, or a very grown-up game of Clue, takes on new depths through Turton’s skillful character development. As Aiden inhabits new hosts, we learn more about all of the players at Blackheath and, slowly, about Aiden himself. The most interesting, original aspect of this novel is the fact that Aiden is so affected by his host’s abilities. Early on, he inhabits the body of a lecherous, violent man and finds that he has trouble concentrating when women are around. Later, when hosted by a sharp, keenly observant (but corpulent) retired banker, he notices details he had missed on other loops, even when observing the same events. Aided by the banker’s sharp mind, he is able to work through clues and put together connections faster than ever before. The abrupt changes in character help to pace the story and allow readers plenty of room to think about the various clues on their own, but beyond that, they are truly suspenseful and keep you wanting more and more.

Last of all, the setting is like a character in itself. Blackheath is eerie and crumbling, but the signs of its previous glamour are still there. The time period reads like the 1920s, but the book is not old-fashioned and does not get bogged down in historical detail. Instead, reading the book is like playing a video game set during a much more glamorous age, and Turton aligns the timeless with the modern with seemingly no effort at all.

It is difficult to describe the plot, but it is truly impossible to sum up the genius of its creator. Turton has crafted a perfectly plotted mystery, and his characters’ motivations are believable, morally gray and compulsively readable. The tension grabs you from the very first page and does not let go for one second. There are twists and turns on nearly every page, yet Turton manages to keep this riveting book understandable and easy to navigate. Would-be detectives will delight at his many red herrings and clues, taking comfort in the knowledge that he has truly thought of every last detail. I am actually already planning a reread of this incredible novel so that I can watch the details play out and really enjoy Turton’s genius as a whole. I suspect this is how many readers will feel once they get to the delicious final twist.

Given Turton’s absolutely flawless plotting, it is nearly impossible to believe that THE 7½ DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE is his debut. The good news is that we can look forward to his future literary contributions with excitement, eagerness and just a dash of fear.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on September 21, 2018

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
by Stuart Turton