The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle* by Stuart Turton is a book which defies classification. It’s uniqueness will have you puzzling out an unpredictable mystery and at the mercy of an unconventional plot. It’s a hybrid of a book which mixes a classic whodunnit with Groundhog Day, Downton Abbey and The Good Place.
This complicated mystery is set in a once great, but now moldering, manor named Blackheath House. Every night Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered at a party thrown by her parents. This happens every night at the same time. Each day Aiden Bishop, inhabiting the body of a different guest (host), has to try to figure out who the murderer is. He will finally be allowed to escape this ongoing time loop and leave Blackheath once he identifies the murderer. But he is not the only one tasked with solving the murder and other people are bent on stopping him by any means necessary.
This is a murder mystery like no other, featuring a whole raft of upstairs/downstairs characters with different motives. As Aiden jumps from guest to guest each day, it can be quite confusing to work out what’s going on. The reader is as clueless as he is until slowly you learn more and more about what’s going on in Blackheath.
To be honest, I spent the majority of this book feeling confused. Multiple timelines as a plot device befuddle my brain, whether that’s in a book or on the screen, so I’m not completely laying blame at the author’s feet. One of the joys of reading a mystery is trying to guess who the killer is, but I felt locked out of the process with this book. I could appreciate the complexity of this novel by the time I reached the end, but it took a long time to get there and I had to really persevere to get through this book.
While the list of characters at the front of the book helped, it was annoying to constantly have to refer back to this page to try to keep track of everyone. I felt like I needed to take notes while reading this book to keep track of what was going on. In fact, the author had a wall of post-it notes while writing this novel and it took him three years to create this very detailed story. I think if he needed all that help to write this complex plot, then I don’t feel so bad about being confused at times. If I read this book again it would no doubt be easier to follow the story.
Another slight annoyance with this book is that the reader never really understands why this time loop is happening — only that it’s some sort of purgatory which some of the characters are stuck in. That’s what made me compare it to the TV series The Good Place at the start of this review. I felt that the reason why this is all happening could have been explained in more detail given the complexity of other parts of the plot.
BUT slight criticism aside, I appreciated this book’s originality and homage to Agatha Christie. The author was very original and clever in plotting this book and the writing itself was of a high quality. All this would lead me to recommend it to other book lovers. Perhaps you will find it a bit easier to digest than I did.
Verdict: Prepared to be perplexed by this mind-boggling mystery novel.
*Note: In North America this book is called The Seven and 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle — just to make it even more confusing for everyone!