Genre: Complicated Murder Mystery
Similar to: A gothic version of “Clue”
Could be enjoyed by: Anyone who really wants something to sink their teeth into
Publication date: 8th February 2018
Picture the scene…
Publisher (P): Ok, tell me about this idea that you have for a book
Stuart Turton (ST): Well, it’s a Victorian murder mystery. It’s set in a crumbling gothic mansion where there’s a party taking place and the reader knows that one of the guests is the killer.
P: Pretty standard stuff.
ST: Weeeeellll… not really. I added a twist.
P: What kind of twist?
ST: The same day gets lived out over and over again, so that the reader gets to see the murder from different angles.
ST: Well, for each day that passes, the protagonist wakes up in a different body.
ST: So they collect information from each of their host bodies.
P: Ok. That sounds a bit complicated, but as long as it’s a linear progression…
ST: It’s not a linear progression.
P: But you said…
ST: Each time one of the hosts goes to sleep, or gets knocked out, or killed, the protagonist jumps to a different host. So the timeline kind of moves back and forth.
P: But no-one knows about the hosts, so doing things out of sequence…
ST: No, there’s other characters who are stuck in the same time loop.
P: And presumably they have different host bodies too?
ST: No, I wouldn’t want to make it complicated.
ST: Of course, the hosts know about the hosts so they can give each other information. Oh, and did I mention the plague doctor? And the footman? He’s trying to murder the protagonist by hunting him down. And when I said this was a murder mystery… there’s more than one murder. A lot more. And when I said the same day gets lived out, the hosts do have the ability to alter the timeline for future hosts.
Are you still with me?
P: You’d have to a genius to write something that complicated.
ST: BEHOLD MY GENIUS!!!
P: Ok, well as long as you don’t give it a confusing title…
So yes, anyway…
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (not to be confused with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo which is an entirely different book, or The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle which is the same book but with a different title for US audiences) is complicated. As someone who regularly reads multiple books at once, even I had to dedicate myself solely to the novel, reading it in big chunks over a period of a few days (otherwise I kept forgetting who everyone was). Its genius is it’s intricacy though, pulling you into a web of lies, betrayal and secrets that reveal themselves slowly – sometimes even frustratingly slowly – to finally build a picture of the truth.
I loved how the book was written – the sheer scope of the thing, the numerous characters, the plotline that took so many twists and turns I had virtual whiplash. I loved the gothic sensibilities, the utterly unreliable cast of characters and the sense of tension that started on the first page and built momentum as the book progressed. I was utterly engrossed…for about 80% of the novel.
You see, whilst it would be completely honest to say that I got lost in the book, I literally mean that I got lost. The book is so complex, the storyline so fragmented and the characters so unreliable that any sense of playing detective as a reader was utterly pointless. To me, the whole point of a mystery book is to try to work out what’s going on before you’re told by picking up on the clues and red herrings scattered throughout the text. There was none of that here. Even if I wrote the ending here now it wouldn’t make the blindest bit of difference because not in a million years would you get anywhere close to being able to work it out.
I think that part of the problem was the idea of inhabiting different hosts (all male, all seemingly middle class/upper working class) with little knowledge or memories of who the host actually was. That meant that the protagonist was endlessly jumping between bodies who all seemed pretty similar, but who all had predefined parts to play. You had no idea of what each host knew, where their loyalties lay or even what their relationships were with other characters. Add to that the few breadcrumbs of plot that jumped out as clues/things to remember and it was all just a bit too much. So by the time I was nearing the ending, I realised that I didn’t have any theories as to what might happen and I was passively watching the action.
Ending notwithstanding, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is an incredible, absorbing book. I loved how engrossed I became in it, how inventive and original the storyline was and joyously, unashamedly complicated it became. I would have loved a few more clues, a viable chance at guessing the ending and an easier way of telling the characters apart but I still give it:
Four and a half “not a single non-alcoholic drink throughout”s out of five..
Inventive, original and complex – make sure you keep a notebook handy.