I’m a little confused about the title of this book. Sometimes I see it listed as The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and other times as The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. I’ll be using the latter title, since that’s what’s on the ARC I got from Edelweiss.
It’s hard to say who was more confused at the beginning of The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton: me or the protagonist. The protagonist’s awareness bursts to life as he’s being chased through the woods, shouting the name “Anna.” This isn’t unusual in fiction. What is unusual is the fact that the protagonist doesn’t recognize his hands and can’t remember his own name. As the protagonist slowly puts the pieces together, we learn that he is under a strange set of orders. Our protagonist will wake up in a set of different hosts and must solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle—or else he will lose all his new memories and have to start all over again from square one. Oh, and when he wakes in the morning, Evelyn hasn’t been murdered yet.
Everything takes place at Blackheath, a mouldering country house somewhere in England. We’re not sure when, but there are no cellphones or laptops. There are horse-drawn carriages and oil lamps, and references to a war. On the day that Evelyn will be murdered, her parents have assembled a shady cast of guests for a ball. No one particularly wants to be there, but they’ve gotten together because of a tangled web of scheming and blackmail. Everything has something to hide and a single 24-hour period, no matter how often our protagonist relives it, doesn’t seem like enough to gather everyone’s secrets and make sense of it all.
Our protagonist has to make a lot of impossible choices over the course of the novel. How does he save Evelyn? Can he save Evelyn? How does he save Anna and get them both out of their waking nightmare? What lengths is he willing to go to in order to save the people he wants to save? The ground is always shifting underneath him as he finds out who is real enemies are and what secrets people are hiding. Meanwhile, the longer he stays at Blackheath, bouncing from host to host, the more he starts to lose himself to the personalities of the people he inhabits. If he goes on much longer at Blackheath, he’s in danger of losing himself entirely. If that happens, Evelyn’s murder will go on unsolved and Anna will also be lost forever.
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is one of the most fiendishly complicated and original mysteries I’ve ever read. I couldn’t put it down. I just had to know what happened to the protagonist and Anna and the huge cast of characters. My feverish reading was rewarded by a mystery that kept getting deeper with every chapter, revelations that turned friends into enemies and back again, and a heroic story of a man struggling against an impossible set of circumstances.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration. It will be released 18 September 2018.