Friday, March 2, 2018


THE SEVEN DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE by Stuart Turton (Bloomsbury Raven, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

'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...

Candidly, I approached this debut from journalist Stuart Turton with a little trepidation. In recent years I've been inundated with breathlessly hyped 'it's the crime novel of the year!' tales from various publishers. While many of those books were good reads, it was hard for them to match the hype (and often left me scratching my head as other truly brilliant crime novels flew under the radar).

THE SEVEN DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE has a brilliant premise, one of those hooks that is just so perfectly clever you wonder how no-one had thought of it before: an Agatha Christie-style country-house murder mystery, but one where the sleuth relives the same day over and over until he solves the crime (ala Groundhog Day), except he inhabits the different bodies and viewpoints of different guests each day (ala Quantum Leap). Genius or madness? The proof is in the pudding...

I loved it.

Turton's debut is exquisitely written, intricately plotted, and manages to not only match but outdo all the pre-publication hype. It delivers on the high-concept premise, while also delivering much more.

We first meet our narrator 'Aiden' in a confused and scared state, having woken in the woods not knowing who or where he is and then thinking he may have seen someone killed. With some aid he manages to stumble his way to a creaky manor, and learns he's actually Dr Sebastian Bell, a man who gets decidedly mixed reactions from various other guests who have come to Blackheath for a party welcoming Lord & Lady Hardcastle's daughter Evelyn back from her time in Paris. It's an odd grouping, and even odder timing - the anniversary of the death of Evelyn's brother years before.

But that's just the beginning of the oddness.

THE SEVEN DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE is a finger-clenching, mind-bending, smile-inducing read on many levels. I particularly enjoyed the quality of Turton's writing - it's not a book that relies on it's high-concept hook alone to carry the reader through. There are tasty little 'easter eggs' in the writing on almost every page, whether a turn of phrase or a concise description that is slightly askew or new. There's an understated elegance to the wordsmithery, like a concert musician who makes something very technical, creative, and artistic seem simpler and less difficult than it is.

It's a book to savour as much as devour.

As you'd expect for a classic country house murder mystery, there's an eclectic cast of characters. With Turton's conceit, we not only get to view many of them from the sleuth's viewpoint, but from many others too (including, somewhat, their own). It's a Rashomon-esque aspect of THE SEVEN DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE, which is also very well done. The same events seen through different viewpoints, as well as Aiden's various viewpoints skewed by each of his hosts.

There is so much to admire and enjoy about THE SEVEN DEATHS OF EVELYN TURTON. Frankly, I was blown away by how good it is. While the high-concept hook might get eyeballs, it's a book which is far deeper and richer than merely a clever idea well-executed. It's the kind of book I imagine I'll still be thinking about as the year unfolds.

Maybe, even, a 'crime novel of the year'.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for newspapers and magazines in several countries. In recent years he has interviewed 200 crime writers, discussed the genre onstage at books festivals on three continents, on national radio and popular podcasts, and has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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