Mystery of the Month – The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

This is a whodunit like no other. It has all my most favourite things. Murder mystery? Check. Set in a dilapidated mansion? Check. Long list of suspects? Check. Twists and turns galore? Check. A sprinkle of sci-fi? Check.

Aiden Bishop is the main character, although you won’t find that out until later in the book. When we first meet him, he’s occupying the body of Sebastian Bell who is wandering through a forest, believing himself to have witnessed the murder of a woman named Anna. He can’t remember who he is, or where he is, but a mysterious voice whispers in his ear, hands him a compass and tells him to travel east. Bell finds a rundown old mansion – Blackheath – filled with people gathering for the birthday party of Evelyn Hardcastle. But tonight, Evelyn will be murdered.

Each day for eight days, Aiden awakens in the body of a different party guest. A man wearing a plague doctor costume explains Aiden must solve Evelyn’s murder in order to escape Blackheath forever, and he must do so before his rivals beat him to the solution, and before his hosts are picked off one by one by a creepy footman. It’s like a Cluedo version of Jumanji – Aidan has been sucked into a game where he doesn’t know the rules and with real life consequences. He’s trying to piece together a jigsaw puzzle without having the picture on the front of the box, but he soon comes to the conclusion that whatever’s going on is linked to the death of Evelyn’s brother, Thomas Hardcastle, nineteen years earlier.

Stuart Turton is to be applauded for brilliantly pulling off such an intricate narrative, tying up all the loose ends and providing satisfying answers to all of the questions. The meticulous plotting and planning is truly admirable as Aiden switches back and forward between the hosts he inhabits each time one of them falls asleep (or is knocked out) and the story has more surprise reveals than any other book I can think of. But Seven Deaths is best read without too many spoilers so the reader can peel away the layers, page by page, without knowing what’s to come.

Seven Deaths is beautifully written, rich with vivid metaphors that bring the characters and the setting to life, including an early scene where a man verbally abuses a maid in a crowded drawing room and everyone is shocked into such silence that “even the piano bites its tongue”, but a “heroic clock” still “drums up its courage and ticks.” All of the hosts Aiden inhabits are distinct, well-rounded characters with specific strengths and weaknesses and even the more deplorable ones are given redeeming qualities. His relationship with “rival” Anna is the strongest of the story as it grows from uncertain beginnings into a solid bond of trust and kindness, and yet we still wonder whether she is his ally or his enemy.

I could wax lyrical about this book for hours, writing thousands of words about how much I enjoyed reading it. It’s spooky and sinister and it’ll give you a few chills, but it also reflects upon the futility of retribution, the notion of whether someone can transform themselves, and the importance of being kind and giving second chances, making for absorbing and spellbinding reading. It’s only March, but I think it will be difficult to find a book I love more than this for my ‘best of 2018’ list.

Stuart Turton is a travel journalist who spent three years writing The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, his debut novel. He also has one of the best author biographies. I’m very excited to read what he has in store next.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton is published by Bloomsbury.

Standout Simile

He’s standing behind me, mostly obscured by trees and bushes. In the uncertain light of the brazier, the mask appears to float in the gloom like a soul trying to tug free of its body.

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