The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The Blurb On The Back:

Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught.  Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.

It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy.  As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.

But Evelyn will not die just once.  Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again.  Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot.

The only way to break this cycle is to identify her killer.  But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is desperate to stop him ever escaping Blackheath …

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Aiden Bishop doesn’t know who he is.

He’s told that his name is Sebastian Bell and he’s a doctor who’s been invited to attend Blackheath House, owned by Lord and Lady Hardcastle for a Masquerade in honour of their daughter, Evelyn Hardcastle, who has recently returned from living in Paris.  He knows that he needs to find Anna, even though he doesn’t know who she is, what she looks like or how come she’s so important to him: all he knows is her name – the first thing he said when he found himself in the local woods, fleeing from something he doesn’t know but which he’s sure is bad.

Then he meets a mysterious man dressed in a plague doctor’s costume who tells him the truth: that his name is Aiden Bishop and he is trapped in Blackheath until he can solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle who dies at midnight and whose killer was never caught.  Aiden will see the day of her death through the eyes of 8 people who were present in the house and must tell the Plague Doctor who the murderer is by the stroke of midnight.  If he succeeds then the Plague Doctor will allow him to leave Blackheath and return to his other life.  If he fails, then his memories will be scrubbed and he will start the day again and again and again until he uncovers the truth.

But Aiden is not the only person playing this “game” and some of the other players want him dead plus every time he returns to a host, they exert a little more control over him, blurring the line further between his own identity and theirs …

Stuart Turton’s ingenious speculative, high-concept thriller couples QUANTUM LEAP and GROUNDHOG DAY with an Agatha Christie twist that carried me along in an entertaining whirlwind that kept me turning the pages from beginning to end with its clever use of clues and red herrings such that while it’s not a flawless read, it’s nevertheless one of the best books I’ve read in 2018 and I kept thinking about it long after I’d finished.

It’s really difficult to give a plot summary of this book without putting in too many spoilers.  What I will say is that I think Turton absolutely nails the trick of repeating events through the eyes of different characters without ever becoming repetitive – and part of that comes from the fact that he knows when to skip events or have Aiden’s hosts look away.  I also think he moves very well between hosts, giving them their own personal quirks and viewpoints while also keeping Aiden’s inner thoughts and personality in clear view – it’s a hell of a skill and one that I really admire in a debut author.

There’s been a lot of comment on line about Turton’s portrayal of the obese and self-hating Lord Ravencourt and whether it constitutes fat-shaming.  My own take on it is that it’s not so much Ravencourt and Aiden hating their obesity as the fact they hate how dependent it makes them on others by limiting their physical stamina and therefore their ability to act discretely by themselves. That doesn’t mean that I was completely comfortable with it – I certainly think that Ravencourt’s obesity is used as an additional stick to use against him when one of his machinations is revealed during a dinner party and I also think that Turton’s language is a little too blunt in the scenes from Ravencourt’s point of view but I’m equally not convinced that it merits all the criticism levelled against the book.

Aiden himself is an interesting overarching character.  I was completely invested in his confusion over his identity and his search to solve the mystery while also work out who Anna is and why she’s so important to him and I really enjoyed the scenes that took place between Anna and Aiden later on (although I could have done with a little more introspection on Aiden’s part given what the Plague Doctor tells him about her).  The footman is a very bald character, quite simplistic although still quite frightening – in part because of the fact that he could be anywhere and is a genuine threat in terms of the lengths he will go to in order to terminate Aiden’s hosts.

The mystery and the speculative elements for the most part blend together very well, although it was only once I’d finished the book that I began to question the premise behind Blackheath such as why set up the system on that basis, why unleash someone like the footman loose in it and to what end, why the Plague Doctor chooses to act as he does in the final quarter and why there is no one able to stop him and whether the scenarios were actually a fiction or supposedly based on real events.  It’s to Turton’s credit that such questions did not spoil my enjoyment, although I recognise that they may leave some readers feeling frustrated.

There are plenty of red herrings and hidden clues in the different narrative viewpoints and part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much was because while I was able to guess some elements, I didn’t guess all of them and a lot of the fun comes from re-reading the book to spot things I’d missed first time around.

Although I can’t hand on heart say that this is a flawless read, it’s certainly one of the strongest debuts that I’ve read and definitely one of my top books of 2018.  If, like me, you’re a fan of speculative fiction and Golden Age detective fiction, then I think that you will have an awful lot of fun reading this and I will definitely be reading Turton’s next work on the strength of it.

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