Opening sentence: “I forget everything between footsteps.”
If you’re planning on giving The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle a read – and I think you should – maybe allocate a little more time than usual. Coming in at just over 500 pages, it’s a longer novel anyway but let this picture give you an idea of how many places I noted for either a plot twist, or something to look back on…
Stuart Turton explains in an essay at the back of the book that his writing inspiration was the one and only Agatha Christie: ‘I just wanted to write an Agatha Christie novel, the way she did.’ I think Agatha would have enjoyed his version of a murder mystery; along with the mind-boggling plot there is a dry wit running throughout that the great lady would have been proud of.
So, what kind of plot could evoke the use of so many mini-Post-Its? Well, this kind… Aiden Bishop finds himself at Blackheath, but has no idea how he got there. Blackheath is a huge manor house that is falling to ruin. Owned by the Hardcastles, they gather friends and acquaintances for a party where, at 11pm, their daughter Evelyn is murdered. Blackheath, you see, is a cursed place and this day of the party is repeated on a loop. Aiden has to discover who killed Evelyn Hardcastle in order to free himself from Blackheath. A costumed guide, whom Aiden christens the ‘Plague Doctor’, helpfully explains: ‘This day will be repeated eight times, and you’ll see it through the eyes of eight different hosts.’ This sequence of eight days then just keeps repeating, for months, years, until Aiden discovers who the murderer is. PLUS we are not only seeing the story from eight perspectives, but the timeline jumps as well – from day four to day two, then day seven and back to two etc. PLUS as the days go on, his hosts manage to retain more control and he keeps memories and feelings from all of them, ‘Can this higgledy-piggledy personality I’ve cobbled together over the course of the day survive such a deluge (of memories), or will it be washed away entirely?’ As you can see, it’s twisty.
Owing to all this there were a few points where something would happen in the plot and I’d think, ‘I just have to trust that does actually make sense, I don’t have the energy to flick through all my Post-Its and confirm.’ This is a slightly unsettling feeling; as a reader I like to be in full control of the narrative at all times. I don’t need to know what’s about to happen, but I do need to know how and why a character got to the place they did. The way the plot is written though, is absolutely stunning – for that alone I agree that The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle deserves all the accolades that have been coming its way. If it was a mind-twist to read, I can only imagine what is was like to write, it’s a real testament to Stuart Turton’s skill. There were some lovely sentences scattered throughout too, such as: ‘A strange silence greets me, the din of somebody trying to be quiet.’
Aiden is not alone in trying to escape Blackheath, he meets Anna, a character whose set up is different to his, but her aim the same. I was not a fan of Anna, finding her character annoyingly vague and random. Actually – that whole thread of the plot surrounding Anna and Aiden’s reasons for being in Blackheath (along with what Blackheath actually is) all felt a little rushed; like an afterthought to the whole twisting plot when actually, they are important elements that didn’t feel as thought through as the rest of the story. At one point Aiden says, ‘Are things always like this?’ I ask. ‘The explanation arriving before the questions?’ This is a good summary for both the character and reader; it is perhaps inevitable that you would finish a book like this with quite a lot of questions buzzing around your head (Why didn’t later day Aiden’s help out earlier day ones a little more? Why were all his hosts male?) so in some ways you connect with the lead character very strongly.
While The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle wasn’t a pitch-perfect read for me, it was a very clever, intriguing one that kept me hooked. As Aiden says, ‘Certainty was the first thing Blackheath took from me’ and you’ll feel very similar throughout this read. It depends whether you see that as a positive or a negative!
/ Published in 2018 by Raven Books
/ 505 pages
/ Rating: 4/5