This book was brought to my attention by a colleague and then I started to see accolades for it everywhere. Unique, utterly original, clever, a mystery like no other – all of these were descriptors used by previous readers that enticed me to finally read it. And utterly original totally fits.
Stuart Turton is a freelance journalist and this is his first novel and truly he must have quite a twisted mind. This novel is built with many popular tropes of literature that ultimately come together to create something quite new. Part ghost story, total locked room type mystery, add a twist of time travel, a spooky masked figure who is possibly a guide, and a psychopathic footman and you get a really intriguing, clever read. Yes, Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered. Seven times in fact. The narrator wakes up dripping wet calling out the name ‘Anna’. He has no idea of where he is, who Anna is and quickly realises he is in actual fact in someone else’s body! From that point on the surreal is embedded in this twisty tale.
The setting is in the 1920’s, in a crumbling mansion, Blackheath Manor, and an invitation only gathering, with hunting, a party and a family with tragedy in its past. We do find out that the narrator is Aiden Bishop and he has eight ‘hosts’ to try to find the murderer of Evelyn Hardcastle and he gets to relive the same day seven times. The hosts are unreliable, sometimes dastardly unlikeable, and have their own secrets that complicate the investigation and then there is that psychopathic footman who is killing the hosts so there is an added urgency to the day, that is continually on repeat. I actually really wanted a wall of post-it notes to keep the clues in order as you are really intellectually roped in to this story with so many twists that you keep being surprised and then satisfyingly saying ‘Ah Ha Now that scene makes sense’ so it all does link in the end. And as you see the same day through different eyes these ‘clues’ are also scattered about in a different order making it even more complicated.
I agree with the Guardian review that Turton makes a key sacrifice with the reader with this approach and I was never emotionally engaged in the story or really with the characters, even though there is a slow reveal of the key ‘ghosts’ back stories throughout the novel. However, I was totally intellectually engaged trying to work out how all the different clues fitted together and who did murder Evelyn Hardcastle and who is directing that footman and why are there three guns and so many key questions. So get out your post it notes and get reading as it is definitely one to get you hooked if your tastes run to clever twisty mysteries.
The novel also put me in mind of an Australian authors, based in Brisbane, Stephen M. Irwin first book The Broken Ones who mixed the ghostly with the murder mystery genre and whose current writing has moved to the TV screen where he is the screenwriter of the TV series Harrow and Tidelands. Also Angela Slatter who has mixed the fantasy genre with the mystery genre in her Verity Fassbinder series with the first Vigil as another recommended mind bending read.
Also available as:
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (downloadable audio)
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (audio CD)
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (audio MP3)