SECOND OPINION: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Review published on June 10, 2018.

Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.

Aiden Bishop is having a very bad day, several of them in fact. He has woken up, bruised and somewhat bloodied, at a house party held at Blackheath House … he also happens to be trapped in someone else’s body. As incomplete memories slowly return to him, Aiden realises that he is stuck in some kind of infernal time loop in which each day ends with Evelyn Hardcastle being shot and killed during a fireworks display intended to be the closing highlight of the party. Each day he wakes up in the body of a different member of the house party and each day he has to use his new host’s knowledge and skills in an attempt to identify the killer and save Evelyn’s life. He has eight days (and so eight hosts) in which to solve the conundrum; otherwise, his memories are completely wiped and he has to begin the whole eight-day cycle again.

A creepy fellow in a plague doctor masks initially appears to be the only one who knows of his plight, although Aiden soon learns that there are two other people at Blackheath who are also seeking the killer … and only one of them can escape. The ensuing competitive need to save Evelyn – it is the only way out of the whole perplexing nightmare after all – means that Aiden, as contained within his various hosts, faces more than his fair share of deadly danger as well as having to wrap his brain (their brains?) around some highly confusing circumstances. He has to take on the much-loved role of the amiable amateur detective, but he also has to contend with the warping of the space-time continuum and the very real possibility of being trapped at Blackheath (and hence trapped with his decidedly unappealing fellow guests) forever.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a book that is very easy to enjoy but very difficult to characterise and describe. In many ways, it presents all the key elements of a book from the so-called “Golden Age of Murder” – seemingly set during the interwar years, a country house, a grand house party, an eclectic bunch of guests who are all hiding a secret or two, upper class twits and stroppy servants, and an apparently motiveless murder – although there’s actually so much more involved. It’s really a case of Groundhog Day meets Quantum Leap meets the entire Agatha Christie oeuvre, and it certainly is one of the most innovative crime novels of recent years.

The plot surrounding the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle and Aiden’s attempts to unmask and thwart the killer is truly ingenious. It’s all very unlikely, yet all too convincing. There are twists upon twists and the whole investigative process is deeply disconcerting, which is no surprise considering the number of personalities Aiden has to work with. Stuart Turton has also done an excellent job of establishing Aiden’s own personality (and slowly revealing it to the man himself) as well as creating a bunch of distinct hosts for him to inhabit. Each of these host characters offers something unique and inhabiting them always changes something about Aiden, whether it be the way he thinks, acts or speaks. By the end of the book, an idea of Aiden as an individual does emerge, but it remains difficult to determine the true impact that being at Blackheath has had on him.

Despite the fact that the plot involves the same day potentially repeating ad infinitum, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a very tense and exciting book. In addition to the familiar difficulties that he encounters, each day brings new puzzles and dangers for Aiden, and even when he thinks he’s got things figured out, the next day sees the rug pulled out from under him once again. Turton has scattered clues throughout the story, but the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle is a particularly fiendish problem to puzzle out. It’s probably best to just acknowledge that nothing is certain and all the characters are likely unreliable to some extent at least and follow along as Aiden eventually works his way towards the truth.

All in all, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is an exceptionally clever and unusual book that is sure to appeal to crime fiction, thriller and science fiction fans looking for something a little different (and arguably a little more difficult) to the norm.

Erin Britton 5/5

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Raven Books 9781408889565 hbk Feb 2018

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