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Review: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton;

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 up in the body of a different guest. And someone is desperate to stop him ever escaping Blackheath.

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When I went to my local Waterstones last week to take advantage of their offers, I wasn’t expecting to be slowly lead into a time-bending, mind-warping murder mystery.

On my way to the counter with an armful of books I was approached by an enthusiastic staff member. We got talking and she eventually mentioned a new release that she had recently read and loved. At the time I didn’t quite catch the title because it was long, and I was tired, but I was enthralled by her description of an Agatha Christie style novel against a Groundhog Day backdrop.

“I loved it,” she told me. “There were so many twists and turns and I didn’t know where it was going to go next. There was a point where it all clicked into place, but I could not have guessed the ending.”

She put my books through the till, printed my receipt and wrote “The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” along the top and handed it to me. For the next two days I was unable to get the concept of this novel out of my head. I hadn’t even bought the book yet and Stuart Turton had already gripped me with his uncommon and captivating plot.

I personally think you know you’re in for a real treat when you open a book to find maps, character lists, or family trees. So, I was practically tingling with excitement when I opened the cover to find a map of Blackheath House and its grounds and the invitation to the party with a full list of guests and household staff. I kept eagerly flipping to the map and invitation as I read, searching for clues and doing my best to play detective.

This book has a whole cast of theatrical characters to love, hate, feel pity for and root for. But, for the most part, I felt unable to trust anyone. Every character’s actions and words seemed like a trick. I admire Turton’s ability to handle such a rich array of well thought out characters. He managed to avoid the trap of half-formed or forgotten characters that often comes when you have a large cast involved in your plot. Every character in Seven Deaths was individual, recognisable and realistic.

The premise was unlike anything I had seen or read before and I was eager to understand what was happening to Aiden and the motive behind Evelyn’s murder. I devoured the whole of this novel in two days and still wanted more. Turton has left me greedy for his dark Wonderland world and for that, I’m slightly disappointed that Aiden’s story at Blackheath is over. I wish I hadn’t read it so quickly and had savoured every page and revelation that came my way instead.

Turton kept me guessing, twisting his plot one way and then another with careful precision. I was never able to pin-down the answers to the questions I had or work out the conclusion until the novel’s crescendo. With crime and thriller/mystery novels now the UK’s most popular genre of fiction, this topsy-turvy murder mystery stands out amongst the crowd as something pleasantly different.

Seven Deaths is marvellously written with excellent craftsmanship and intricate details that adds a realistic element to an otherwise beautifully absurdist plot.

His story-telling sucks you in and in such a way that I often found myself forgetting that I was reading a novel. I could see Turton’s words and characters alive in my mind and performing their macabre deeds in front of me. I think the main reason for this is that Turton has used first-person narrative, thrusting the readers into the mind of Aiden and the bodies of his hosts. The reader becomes as intimately and uncomfortably close to the characters as Aiden does. It is strongly immersive prose that puts us closer to the action than if we were a fly on the wall of Blackheath.

This book is dark and strange, full of high-stakes, gruesome murder, beset with tragedy, corruption, and cat-and-mouse chases. Through all this sparkles the glamour of the 1920s, its high society, and the secrets they keep and the lengths they go to in order to maintain their carefully constructed images. It’s wonderfully paced and completely addictive.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a stunning debut novel. Stuart Turton hopes “it keeps you awake until 2am and when you finish it there’s a huge smile on your face” and yes, Stuart, it definitely does that!

 

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