Review: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Erich Mayer

This murder mystery is a Sunday Times bestseller. It won the Costa First Novel award and the Books are My Bag award.
Review: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Stuart Turton's The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle published by Raven Books.

In The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Stuart Turton conjures a run-down mansion, Blackheath House, in a near-impenetrable forest somewhere in England. It is probably about a century ago, as candles provide light and horses supply transport. Blackheath House is populated with a large and interesting cast of diverse characters, some of whom – for unexplained reasons – are unable to resume their normal lives until they have solved a murder mystery.

To assist the reader the opening pages feature excellent pen and ink illustrations by Emily Faccini of the frontage and layout of Blackheath House and its outbuildings. 

The story is told in the first person by someone who initially does not know who they are: ‘Feeling the first touch of panic, I try to recall something else about myself: a family member, my address, age, anything, but nothing’s coming. I don’t even have a name. Every memory I had a few seconds ago is gone.’ It turns out he is Dr Sebastian Bell … or perhaps he is someone else who is just temporarily inhabiting Bell’s body.

As the reader progresses through the novel, they gradually learn the fiendishly absurd and strange rules that govern the owners of Blackheath House, Lord and Lady Hardcastle, their guests and their staff. Turton reveals that whomever is inhabiting Bell’s body is tasked with finding out who murdered Evelyn Hardcastle, the Hardcastles’ beautiful daughter. The ‘I’ of the novel alternately inhabits different bodies and, according to the bizarre logic of this novel, has to cope with that body’s personality and physical limitations, all while trying to discover Evelyn’s murderer. As the title suggests, it takes seven attempts at re-living the day of Evelyn’s murder before the situation is finally resolved.

This murder mystery is a Sunday Times bestseller. It won the Costa First Novel award and the Books are My Bag award, the latter being ‘an award curated by bookshops and voted for by booklovers’. Consequently it is hard to deny the appeal of this unusual book to many readers, but it is no good pretending to agree with them. Some readers will find episodes in this novel to be unduly repetitive and the book over-long at 500 pages, and will find its internal logic hard to stomach. Take, for example, the following snippet of dialogue:

‘If freeing me is within your power, why not just do it, damn you!’ I say. ‘Why play these games?’

‘Because eternity is dull,’ he says. ‘Or maybe because playing is the important part. I’ll leave you to speculate.’

Authors sometimes struggle to get an excellent book published; it is alleged that the first three chapters of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected 12 times by publishers, and The Wizard of Oz had to be self-published. Unfortunately, there are many not-so-good books that do get published. Whether this is one of them will be left to the reader.

Rating: 3 stars ★★★
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
By: Stuart Turton

Published: 15/11/2018
Format: Paperback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 528
ISBN: 9781408889510
Imprint: Raven Books
Dimensions: 198 x 129 mm
RRP: $19.99

About the author

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer. He now edits the blog humblecomment.info