The Book Whisperer will not give away any secrets about The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. As a result, this review will be brief. Kirkus calls Turton’s “debut a brainy, action-filled sendup of the classic mystery.” Until now, Turton has been a freelance travel writer.
The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle has received much acclaim, which undoubtedly drew me to read the book: one of Stylist Magazine’s 20 Must-Read Books of 2018, one of Harper’s Bazaar’s 10 Must-Read Books of 2018, and one of Marie Claire, Australia’s 10 Books You Absolutely Have to Read in 2018.
Readers must first understand The Rules of Blackheath, the country estate where The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle takes place:
Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m.
There are eight days, and eight witnesses for you [the narrator] to inhabit.
We will only let you escape once you tell us the name of the killer.
Understood? Then let’s begin….
The story set up is much like an Agatha Christie mystery. Blackheath, a country estate, is the location for the story and a large number of characters have arrived for a weekend party. The reason for the party is macabre: the anniversary of the death of Thomas Hardcastle, who died as a child by the lake. The home belonged then to the Hardcastles. Now, the obese, food-obsessed Lord Ravencourt owns the estate.
The picture below is from the Guardian; it looks like the kind of place that could be Blackheath.
The unnamed narrator turns out to be Aiden Bishop, or at least that is what readers are led to believe at first. Is he really? Or is anything as it seems?
Bishop soon learns his fate from the Plague Doctor, a figure dressed in a black cloak and masque. Doctor Plague tells Bishop he has eight tries to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle. If Bishop cannot solve the murder, he will remain in limbo and be destined to repeat the Groundhog-like cycle. To add to the story, Bishop wakes up in a different body each day, but he remembers the previous day and can amass clues from each day and the perspective of the different people he embodies in order to solve the murder.
To complicate matters, Bishop, a good-hearted person, wishes to save Evelyn Hardcastle, not simply solve the mystery of who murders her. Like any good Christie novel, the characters are varied. For example, Bishop first finds himself in Sebastian Bell’s body. Through searching Bell’s belongings, Bishop learns Bell is a drug dealer. Not only that, but another guest Dr. Dickie Acker, please call him Dickie, supplies Bell with the drugs.
Then we have Millicent Derby and her sleazy son Jonathan who are hangers-on in society. Of course, the lovely Evelyn Hardcastle, her brother Michael, and her parents, Helena and Peter, are members of the party. Evelyn’s maid Madeline Aubert, whom Evelyn has brought with her from Paris, is another member of the party, an important person to remember. There are other characters as well including members of the staff of such a large house.
In the beginning, Aiden is completely unaware of who he is and where he is. Only when the Plague Doctor visits him does Aiden begin to comprehend his situation. Unless he can solve, not stop, Evelyn’s murder, he will never return to his own body and own self. At the moment, Aiden does not know who he is, but he begins to piece together clues about the murderer as well as his own life.
The days will repeat with Evelyn being murdered every night. Turton adds another burden to Aiden’s body-changing forms. He inhabits the young, fit body of the hateful Jonathan Derby, but he also finds himself trapped in the obese Lord Ravencourt’s body so that he can hardly move from one spot to another without having to sit down.
Critics have called Turton’s story inventive, and it truly is that. It embodies elements of time-travel, repeating the same day over and over. In order to keep spoilers out of the review, The Book Whisperer will simply say, read the book.
A year or so ago, I read a YA book titled Every Day by David Levithan. In that, the narrator wakes up in a different body each day, occasionally remains in a body for a few days. The body could be male or female. In that story, the narrator falls in love when he is in a male teen’s body and wishes he could stop the continual change and become his own person. It, too, is an inventive story.
On another note, in England, Turton’s book is The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle while in the US, the title is The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Terena Bell addresses this dilemma in “A Book by any Other Name: Why Does the US Change so Many Titles?” The complete article is available here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2018/sep/13/us-uk-book-titles-changed.
According to Bell, “hordes of books have had their titles changed in America. Disproportionately, they are mysteries.” With The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, “apparently, American’s die more frequently,” thus the change to The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Us publisher Sourcebooks joked, “Our editorial team decided to supersize it” by changing the name to The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.