Imagine a party, set in a crumbling mansion, filled with dozens of questionable characters. The hosts are missing and both the guests and staff are shifty at best. Then imagine having to attend that same party eight different times, in eight different bodies, all in the same day. Then imagine that on top of that, there is a murder, and you need to save the victim and find her killer before she gets murdered again. Oh, and also try not to get murdered yourself. You only have eight lives. Now go.
Stuart Turton’s debut novel, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, is a book filled with surprises. The novel follows protagonist Aiden Bishop as he tries to solve, and ideally prevent, the murder of his friend Evelyn Hardcastle. Every morning, Bishop wakes to find himself in a new body and must repeat the same day eight times. He also must solve Evelyn’s murder before the end of the eight day, or risk forgetting the entire experience and having to repeat it all over again.
Turton’s work, more than anything, is an experience made of fun. Aiden, when placed into his eight separate bodies, is forced to interact with eight different sets of personalities and instincts. Aiden’s first host, for example, is Sebastian Bell, the medical doctor. Bell is a small man who is curious, afraid and intelligent. When Aiden first wakes within Bell, he is confused, and in the woods running. He can only remember one name, Anna. It isn’t until his second host that Aiden realizes that he is jumping between bodies. With his extra days and extra time, he is determined to save Evelyn. It is incredibly entertaining to guess when Aiden will enter his next host, wonder who his next host will be, and theorize how this new body may help or hinder his search for the killer.
Even the one seemingly stagnant part of the novel, the estate itself, slowly changes with the work as well. Turton digs deep into the book’s wilting-European-estate aesthetic. The reader is continuously encountering fragments of the large house and greater grounds. Despite the book’s isolated setting, Aiden’s change in perspective, with each new body, reinvents the house for the reader, as he discovers details with new insight each time.
However, this constant change in perspective comes with a price. The novel excels in its creative premise but ultimately introduces more than it can effectively bring to fruition. It is unable to flesh out its plot and fully bring its characters’ to a satisfying end point. The reader, for example, must interact with twist after twist—most of which cannot be predicted and are usually devoid of logic—which ultimately appear for the sole sake of shock value alone. As such, the great climaxes set-up by these twists are undeserved.
Because of the constant movement between new characters, even the most fleshed out individuals feel ironically stagnant. Most of the character development occurs alongside the aforementioned twists and so the characters often acquire a great deal of external development but forced internal development. Rarely are characters given backstory. When it is given, it is usually in the form of a twist where the character will mature and grow almost instantly through a shocking reveal, creating an efficient but ultimately artificial and unsatisfactory way of getting to know Turton’s characters.
The novel also tends to raise more questions than it actually answers. There is an undercurrent of noise within the work, a steady stream of questions likely meant to confuse the reader and keep their interest. While this can be an effective tool within the genre of the murder mystery, the reader is never properly given the tools to solve these questions on their own and leads to disappointment and discontentment not aligned with the overall excitement intended by the plot. Despite these critiques, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a creative and entertaining read. While the book itself is not a groundbreaker within its genre, it does well in introducing a unique spin to classic murder mystery tropes. It is a who-done-it told in the most intriguing of fashions.
STUART TURTON is a freelance journalist who lives in West London with his wife. Stuart is not to be trusted-in the nicest possible way. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is his first novel.
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle can be purchased here.