Title: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Author: Stuart Turton
Publisher: Raven Books (Imprint of Bloomsbury UK)
Release Date: February 8th, 2018 (UK); September 18th, 2018 (NA)
Genre(s): Mystery, Science Fiction
Page Count: 528 pages
Stuart Turton is a twisted fucking genius. I doff my hat to the mysterious acid-fueled voice that must have whispered into his brain at 3 AM that an Agatha Christie/Quantum Leap/Groundhog Day mashup would be the perfect debut novel. Because holy hell, it’s been a while since I’ve had this much fun reading. The Seven (7 1/2 in the North American version) Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is the best whodunit story I have ever read and it has just reserved itself a VIP spot on my Best of 2018 list.
It starts with a lost memory. A name torn from the throat (“Anna!”). A mad chase through the woods. A woman’s scream. Our protagonist (Aiden) does not remember who he is or how he came to be at Blackheath House, a crumbling Georgian manor situated in the middle of nowhere. It is where the Hardcastles are throwing a masquerade ball to celebrate the return of their daughter, Evelyn, from France. Except Evelyn will be murdered by the end of the evening. And Aiden will need to solve her murder in order to leave this place.
Here’s the catch, though: every time he wakes up, the day rewinds itself and he’s thrown into the body of a different guest.
Eight same days. Eight different hosts. One woman murdered. Again and again. Fail by the end of day eight and the cycle begins anew.
There are many things that set Seven Deaths apart from your standard mystery:
1) The whole, you know, body hopping thing.
2) A protagonist with a…fluid personality:
Our protagonist is a bit of a sponge. He exhibits his own personality, but whenever he wakes up in the body of a new guest, much of their personality ends up seeping into his own. This makes things doubly interesting. It’s also one of the only times I can say, “this character is so inconsistent,” and have it be a good thing.
3) A non-linear timeline:
I don’t want to elaborate much more because it’s best to experience this for yourself, but let’s just say bodies aren’t the only thing Aiden’s hopping through.
I can safely say I have never read anything like Seven Deaths before. It’s a perfect meld of scifi and mystery, with a plot that branches out into a million different directions. And just when you think you’ve seen the last of the author’s tricks, you get one more surprise, and then another…and another. Until they all accumulate and build up to a rousing crescendo of a finale. It’s absolutely brilliant and your brain will be twisted into knots. The prose is also fantastic. Short and to-the-point in tense moments, but beautiful and meandering in others. It’s not just a fun story; it’s also an introspective one that ruminates on the nature of individuality and redemption.
Add to all this a protagonist who is stubborn and empathetic–a combination that makes him so easy to root for–and an eclectic cast of side characters–likeable and shy, clever and witty, arrogant and repulsive, and every one of them hiding sordid secrets–and you have a story that is destined to leave a mark in literary history.
I can’t further articulate how enamoured I am with this book without spoiling stuff, so I’ll just leave you with a mental image of wild flailing arms and incoherent screeching. And two words: Read it.
If you love mysteries, read it.
If you hate mysteries and love scifi, read it.
If you want a story that takes one of the most audaciously brilliant premises ever and pulls it off with aplomb and fireworks, then read it.
If you want your characters complex and interesting and not 2D cardboard cutouts of the Clue cast, read it.
Don your tiaras and plague doctor masks and go get ready for the Hardcastle Masquerade Ball. Oh, and strap on some knives and a pistol or two, because things are going to get very strange and very, very bloody.
Note: If you’re in North America, you’re going to have to wait until September 18th for the release. Or, if you’re impatient (and you should be), you can pick it up from Book Depository.