“‘Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.’
It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.
But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot.
The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…”
Thanks given to Netgalley and Raven Books for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is Stuart Turton’s debut novel, and it’s been gathering a lot of attention online in the build-up to its February release. I decided to pick up a copy for review on the back of this good press, and because I’m a sucker for a good murder mystery (especially when it has a fantastical twist).
That fantastical twist is that until our protagonist Aiden Bishop solves the murder of the titular Evelyn Hardcastle, the day repeats itself and Aiden wakes up every morning in the body of a different guest – with a “ticking clock” deadline and an antagonist or two driving the tension. It’s an intriguing time travel premise, and one that’s handled well by Turton – it’s no easy feat to juggle what amounts to eight timelines, using as many “hosts” for the protagonist, while outlining the investigation into Evelyn’s murder and another murder that happened 19 years previous. I do think the narrative becomes confusing at times – unavoidably so – but Turton manages to keep this confusion to a minimum through the use of engaging description, deft characterisation, and a tight, well-considered plot.
And that brings me to my next point: the writing is excellent. Turton has an economical but evocative turn of phrase, and some of his descriptions really make characters and their interactions leap off the page. It was a joy to chart Aiden’s character development over the course of the narrative, especially as he struggles to define himself both in relation to and in opposition of Blackheath and his task there.
Blackheath is a great setting, too. It’s constructed piece by piece as the novel progresses, slowly developing into a character all its own. There’s a sinister, hungry quality to Blackheath which lurks within its mundane, neglected walls – just as with the guests, nothing is quite as it seems and behind every mask lies a den of secrets.
This novel scratched that particular murder mystery itch of mine perfectly – familiar and yet wholly new at the same time. Plus I raced through the final fifth in one sitting, desperate to unravel everything before putting it down.
I was all set for giving The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle a solid five stars, however I’ve stewed over the novel for a few days now and there’s just one thing that drops it just below that rating. For me, the revelations given about Blackheath, Aiden’s task, and the “mechanics” of this world Turton has built did seem incongruous with the rest of the novel. These answers hint at a wider world and put Blackheath in a limited context – which some readers will be thrilled by – but I would have preferred the nature of Blackheath to be left more ambiguous… it’s a personal preference that doesn’t even come close to ruining the novel for me, but is nevertheless worth mentioning.
Overall though, this an incredibly enjoyable novel which keeps you guessing until the very end. I loved the incorporation of time travel into a “traditional” murder mystery and Turton’s writing style is nothing short of enthralling. If this is what he can do right off the bat, then I’m even more excited for what he’ll write next.
I really liked it.