Author: Stuart Turton.
Publisher: Raven (Bloomsbury imprint)
The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle is the debut novel from Stuart Turton and he doesn’t make it easy for himself! He couldn’t write a straight forward murder mystery, oh no, he had to write one with multiple protagonists whilst at the same time being the same protagonist, time travel and body hopping, oh, and set it in the 1930s, too. Yeah, he’s clearly a literary masochist. But, boy does he pull it off. I loved this book from first to last page, devouring all 505 pages of it in two days.
Briefly, there’s a grand ball up at the crumbling Blackheath House to celebrate the return of Lord and Lady Hardcastle’s daughter Evelyn, from Paris. Only problem is that she will be murdered at 11pm during the ball. One of the guests, Aiden, is charged to investigate and solve her murder, and until he does he will not be allowed to leave Blackheath. Ever. He is destined to relive the same day over and over and over again until he does. The added complication is that with each day he wakes up in the body of a different guest. Bummer. To say more would be to spoil the surprises, plot twists and fantastic imagination the Stu weaves throughout this book. Each character that Aiden inhabits has their own personality; they’re not just Aiden in a different skin, and Stuart juggles all of these deftly and with great skill. Never once did I feel lost as to who I was reading. In fact, quite how he kept all of his balls in the air (quiet at the back there!), is a feat in itself. I believe many, many Post-It notes were employed. The very first few chapters are a tad confusing, but that just mirrors the feelings of the characters themselves, and things soon become clearer (ish) as the plot starts to unfold, the book settling down into its stride nicely. Stuart conjures up the atmosphere of the decaying Blackheath wonderfully, not just in the bricks and mortar of the house itself and the surrounding estate, but also in its inhabitants, not least the Hardcastles themselves.
This is the type of book that will have you constantly trying to second guess the outcome; what is Blackheath? Where is Blackheath? Tbh, I did kinda figure it out early on, but not through anything the story gave away, I just had a “what if it’s….?” moment, and even then I wasn’t 100% spot on. It most certainly didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this superior novel, nor my satisfaction of its ending.
TSDoEH is a truly wonderful novel: plotted tighter than a duck’s bum that’s eaten a tube of super glue, populated with an extremely varied and fascinating set of characters, all set in within an original and quite terrifying concept. I believe that Stu is working on a follow-up of sorts set in the 15th Century, and I can’t chuffing wait!
Highly recommended. 5/5