The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a debut breakout novel from Stuart Turton. I first encountered the book at my local B&N and was pulled toward the 1920’s Art Deco styling on the cover. The blurb from the cover fold captured my attention. I had to know more. Hook. Line. Sinker.
Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m.
There are eight days, and eight witnesses for you to inhabit.
We will only let you escape once you tell us the name of the killer.
Understood? Then let’s begin…
How can any avid reader possibly walk away from this?
Aiden Bishop wakes up in an unfamiliar body with an unfamiliar name. He has no idea who he is. He wakes alone, bleeding, and in the woods with a name on the tip of his tongue – Anna. After witnessing what he thinks is a murder, he is pointed in the direction of a crumbling manor called Blackheath. Much to his surprise, everyone there seems to know him. He’s convinced he has amnesia but in the meantime, he directs the people he finds to the location where he believes a woman had been killed, while he in turn tries to regain his memory.
Alas, his memory doesn’t come. What does arrive is someone dressed as a plague doctor. The creepy costumed man explains to Aiden that he is a guest of Blackheath. And at 11:00 pm, Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered. Each day, he will wake in a new body, inhabit a new guest, to search for the murderer. If he is able to discover the murderer, he will be released. If he cannot, the eight days will repeat itself, and his memories will be wiped clean only to start all over again.
Blackheath is a crumbling manor owned by the Hardcastles and they have invited a number of guests to celebrate in a grand masquerade. The outward appearance suggests a celebration in honor of their daughter Evelyn’s engagement. But the guests know better. The ball is to commence on the exact anniversary of their son’s death, and all the guests that have been invited had been at the manor when their son was murdered nineteen years prior. It’s creepy and morbid, and suggests something dangerous on the horizon.
And now their daughter Evelyn is about to be murdered. Someone has it in for the Hardcastles.
A guest list is provided and each day, Aiden wakes up in a new body. Trying as best he can to learn about each of the guests, and the body he inhabits, he searches for clues to find the killer and escape this madness. But finding the killer won’t be easy, especially because he’s not the only interloper. There are others who are also trapped in bodies at Blackheath who are also looking for the killer. The one who finds the killer first gets to leave. Unfortunately, Aiden has no idea who the others could be, except for the one called Anna whose name was on the tip of his tongue when he first woke up. Anna could be an ally or an enemy. But there’s more. There are also others out to kill him disguised as footmen in servitude.
If you combined an Agatha Christie style mystery, the board game Clue, Groundhog Day, and Sisyphus, you would get The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.
There are several mysteries in The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. The first is the murder of the Hardcastle’s son that took place nineteen years ago because it is almost certainly related to the upcoming murder of their daughter. The obvious next mystery is who is going to kill Evelyn and why. Moving on to strange predicament of Aiden Bishop: Who are the other interlopers? Who is Anna? Why are the footman trying to kill him? Who is the plague doctor? And why on earth is he stuck in this Sisyphean hell?
Aside from the small blurb on the dust jacket, the reader knows about as much as the main character. We have no idea who Aiden truly is, why he’s there, or who the enemies are. We begin to unravel the mysteries along with Aiden with no hint, clues, or viewpoints from other characters. It’s a confusing story line and highly complex with a large number of playable characters.
The mystery compels the reader to keep turning pages resulting in a reader’s version of the raging all nighter. And I couldn’t put this one down. Yet, in the end, I was admittedly dissatisfied. While the mystery of the Hardcastles is a wonderfully constructed murder plot worthy of a Poirot episode, the nature of Aiden’s plight and the plague doctor isn’t given enough retrospect. I wanted to know more about who Aiden really is/was, about the plague doctor, about the “before”… but everything of consequence in these matters are dropped.
This might hint at a second book in the works. If that’s the case – hold the front door, I’m in! But if we’re left with this end, and so many holes, I can’t fully recommend it. However, I seem to be in the minority. The favorable reviews on GoodReads are pouring in and mystery readers are going crazy for The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. So if you’re a mystery lover, dive right in – the water’s chilling.
The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
by Stuart Turton