Mystery novel writers have always struck me as being rather like sleight-of-hand magicians. They keep your attention, with atmospheric settings and not-what-they-seem characters in one hand, while pulling off the magic trick–a twist you never saw coming–with the other.
This is particularly true of Stuart Turton’s debut novel, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, except–taking the analogy a little further–when this particular magician puts his top hat on the table, it’s not a rabbit that emerges, but a llama.
With a shout, a man finds himself standing in a forest, rain dripping down his face. He has no memory of who he is or how he got there. In fact, the only thing he remembers is the name still on his lips: Anna.
But who is Anna? And more to the point, who is he?
So begins our protagonist’s odyssey through Stuart Turton’s The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.
It soon becomes clear that the man is one of several guests at a weekend gathering hosted by the Hardcastle family at their isolated, and somewhat faded, country estate.
That night, Miss Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered.
What feels like an Agatha Christie-esque locked-room whodunnit, soon reveals itself to be something far more elaborate as readers are treated to a magic show of a mystery.
You see, the man is not actually a guest. His name is Aiden Bishop, and he is trapped in a Groundhog Day-esque loop, each new dawn bringing him back to relive the same day–in a different guest’s body.
To escape, he must solve Evelyn’s murder.
But the more he uncovers about his fellow guests and the murder itself, the more questions Bishop has. Who is Anna? Who is the mysterious figure lurking around the edges of the story? And ultimately, who is Aiden Bishop?
- Title: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (published in the U.S. as The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle)
- Author: Stuart Turton
- Published: 2018
- Cover artist: David Mann
- Who is it for? Described as Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day, this book and it’s brilliant twists and turns is for locked-room mystery lovers who enjoy genre-defying subplots.
As the reader becomes increasingly drawn into the mystery of who killed Evelyn Hardcastle, and why, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture: what is our protagonist’s connection to the events unfolding at the manor?
Herein lies the magic of Turton’s storytelling. You’re so busy looking at the mystery itself, that you don’t give much thought to the question that’s been niggling at the back of your mind as you’ve watched the story unfold.
Then, you reach the end, and–with a final flourish–all is revealed. The magician pulls the llama from the hat and you’re left marvelling at the trick.
Atmospheric, original, and masterfully plotted with a brilliant twisty ending, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a magician’s slight-of-hand dream of a book.
It’s not often that a plotline surprises me as much as this one did. The story moves fast but the details never feel rushed. There are clever reveals scattered throughout the main story and a gloriously sinister subplot.
For even more magic, try the audiobook–read with just the perfect amount of gravitas–by James Cameron Stewart.
To learn more about the cover design, click here to read an interview with Bloomsbury Publishing Art Director, David Mann.
Featured image photo credit: Charl Durand from Pexels