The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton, absolutely blew my mind. It reminded me of a rather elaborate – and involuntary – how to host a murder party.
Aiden Bishop wakes up in the middle of a dark forest and hears the sounds of a murder close by. Escaping the apparent murderer, he makes his way back to Blackheath – a grand, crumbling mansion.
A party has been gathered by Evelyn Hardcastle’s family to commemorate the murder of her brother 19 years ago. Aiden quickly discovers that he’s not one of the party, but he IS inhabiting the mind of one of the party.
Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered tonight and he will wake up in a different guest’s mind every day for 8 days. Aiden must solve the murder and bring the evidence to the Plague Doctor by the deadline or he will be trapped in Blackheath forever.
As he muses at one point: “If this isn’t hell, the devil is surely taking notes.”
Complex but clear and oh-so-addictive
It sounds confusing but the mysteries get neatly summarised for you from time to time, sort of like checking your pieces in a game of Cluedo:
“I’m walking back to the house, scouring the trees for any sign of danger, my mind running back and forth across the morning’s events. Over and over again, I wonder about the slashes on my arm and the man in the plague doctor costume, the footman and this mysterious Anna, who now appears to be alive and well, and leaving enigmatic notes for me to find.”
I thought an early reference to Alice in Wonderland – ‘Shaking my head, I take a step away from that particular rabbit hole.’ – was a perfect analogy. It’s like Aiden has woken up in a totally mad world. The difference is, he can’t remember the bit where he fell asleep.
And then there’s this rather self-conscious titbit about a third of the way through. One of the characters says:
“In all honesty, this tale’s so peculiar I’m not sure I could walk away now, even if I wished to.”
I nearly said aloud, “Yes, me too! No walking away now! I HAVE TO KNOW.”
Fabulous philosophies; gothic setting
The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is peppered throughout with some rather fascinating philosophies for you to muse on. Evelyn tells Aiden at one point:
“Wealth is poisonous to the soul and my parents have been wealthy a very long time – as have most of the guests who will be at this party. Their manners are a mask; you’d do well to remember that.”
The setting itself is very gothic – old world grandeur that is literally crumbling. Around the back of the mansion an entire balcony has fallen off the facade and dived into the earth below. Nobody has had the means or motivation to cart it away or reattach it. It’s clear that the mansion has been restored just enough to be able to host the party, but it’s all really just very heavy stage make-up.
The best bits (according to Bec)
The writing is fabulous. It’s a very easy to read book, but the descriptions are so very rich. Here’s a sample character sketch:
“Dance is in his late seventies, as withered and gray on the outside as the inside. Almost bald, his face is a river of wrinkles running off his skull, pinned in place only be a large roman nose. Either side of that are a small gray mustache and dark, lifeless eyes suggesting nothing of the man within, except, perhaps, that there may not be a man within. Anonymity seems to be a compulsion with Dance, whose clothes – though good quality – come in shades of gray, with only the handkerchiefs and bow ties offering anything in the way of colour.”
I’m going to leave you with perhaps my favourite quote of the whole book. He’s interrogating the personal servant of a massively overweight gentleman. The servant’s role includes having to heft his employer’s naked body in and out of the bath each day because he’s too large to do it himself.
“Tell me, Cunningham,” I say. “Why does a man like you settle for a job like this?”
That brings him up short, his normally implacable face darkening.
“Life doesn’t always leave you a choice in how to live it,” he says grimly. “Now, come on. We’ve a murder to attend.”
I love that: Life doesn’t always leave you a choice in how to live it. I plan to remember that when I want to respond to all those BE YOUR BEST SELF-type memes.
Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of review. This post contains affiliate links.