The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
I am not very well versed in mystery novels. In fact, besides having dipped into a few Agatha Christie’s when I was in my early teens, I haven’t read much from the genre at all. Recently however, I have been wanting to venture more outside my comfort zone and read a greater variety of books.
Having read this novel a couple of months ago now, I have had quite a lot of time to gather my thoughts on it. But even after two months of deliberation, I still harbour some mixed feelings towards The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.
In this novel, the reader is placed in the position of a man who wakes up without any memories. He soon realises that it is his mission to find out who killed Evelyn Hardcastle, the heiress to Blackheath Estate and daughter of a very influential family. Each time Aiden Bishop wakes, he finds himself in a new body, each of which have some part to play in Evelyn’s death and each of which he must call upon to help solve the mystery.
I think having no prior foreknowledge of the author or the plot put me in good stead to read this novel. I initially expected Evelyn to be our narrator and was surprised to find out our protagonist was in fact a man. The reason we trust Aiden in his narration is because he, like the reader, starts off in complete ignorance of his surroundings. As he learns about the world he has been thrown into, so do we. Unlike the rest of the characters, our narrator’s motivations are clear. While this may seem predictable, the abundance of villains in the novel meant the presence of an overarching heroic figure was necessary to keep the story relatable.
There is no doubt that this novel is cleverly written. Stuart Turton manages to juggle a complex plot and changing narrative with ease. The way in which each of the character’s stories slotted together was seamless, with each of the host’s version of the events leading on from the one before. The stylish flare of the author’s writing meant that I was not in a rush to find out who had murdered Evelyn, I was just happy to go along with whatever twist or turn which was presented to me.
I was however less impressed with the supernatural elements of the novel. Later in the book we find out that Aiden volunteered to go to Blackheath to find Anna and avenge his sister’s murder. Blackheath is a kind of futuristic prison for those who have committed a crime. It is only once the prisoners have solved the case that they can leave.
The idea of an alternate world which continues to replay itself is very Black Mirror-esque. I immediately found myself comparing Blackheath to the plot of ‘White Bear,’ from the second season of Black Mirror, in which a woman is forced to undergo psychological torture as punishment for the part she played in the murder of a young girl. I believe this idea had great potential in The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, but the rushed ending and unanswered questions just made the novel feel altogether a bit clumsy.
The biggest question left unanswered was why the ‘players’ enter Blackheath without any memory of their previous lives. If Blackheath is a place where prisoners can atone for their crimes, surely it wouldn’t make sense for them not to retain any memory of the crime they committed. Can there be true redemption if you don’t know what you did?
The time travel element of this novel was also slightly confusing. Has Aiden time travelled to the past or has the murder been recreated in another dimension where it replays itself in a loop? Perhaps I’m being picky - I just felt the rushed explanation at the end didn’t do justice to the intricacy of the rest of the plot.
Overall, I would give this book a 7/10. It was an impressive debut novel from Turton that succeeded through its original style and ideas, but its overall delivery left a lot to be desired.