2 May 2018

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Beautiful cover art will draw me in like a moth to a flame.  I now realize a title can do the same thing.  Browsing the internet for new books, the very name 'Evelyn Hardcastle' conjured up the image of an intriguing woman, while the Art Deco-style motif on the cover suggested a fabulous era.  Taking a quick peek at reviews, someone wrote that the less you know about this story before digging in, the better.  A request to purchase was promptly placed with the order department at the library while I sat back and waited.  Now that I've finished the book, I agree with the reviewer's suggestion...the less you know going in, the better.  My first gasp came within the first few pages.

The story begins with a man running through a forest in the dark of night as he screams the name of a woman he is sure has just been murdered.  Seemingly out of nowhere, a man appears and drops a compass into Aiden's pocket and murmurs the word 'East' before disappearing.  In the distance is a 'sprawling Georgian manor house, its redbrick façade entombed in ivy'.  

Aiden finally makes his way to the nearby country manor called Blackheath, but people are referring to him as 'Sebastian'.  Judging by the formal attire it's apparent there is a celebration of some sort, but no one seems to react when 'Sebastian', in a state of panic, makes a desperate plea for help.  Once directed to his room, 'Sebastian' searches it for clues and finds an invitation in his suit jacket.

Lord and Lady Hardcastle request the pleasure of your company at a masquerade ball celebrating the return of their daughter, Evelyn, from Paris.  Celebrations will take place at Blackheath House over the second weekend in September.  Owing to Blackheath's isolation, transport to the house will be arranged for all of our guests from the nearby village of Abberly.

Later on, seeing his reflection in a mirror, Aiden is horrified to see someone else's features staring back.  And it's not long before he has a visitor...

'...a man dressed as a medieval plague doctor, his feathers a black greatcoat, the beak belonging to a porcelain mask, glinting in the light of a nearby lamp.  Presumably this is his costume for the ball tonight, though that doesn't explain why he's wearing such sinister garb in the middle of the day.'

The Plague Doctor reveals the extent of the twisted ordeal about to unfold.  Within the span of eight days, Aiden must reveal who murdered Evelyn Hardcastle, recently back from exile in Paris, while he occupies different host bodies.  These host bodies are all people known to the Hardcastles and Aiden will be exposed to each individual's behaviours, perspective and peccadilloes.  If he fails to solve the mystery, he won't leave Blackheath alive. 

This story grabbed me from the very beginning and did not let go for the next 500 pages.  The pace is fast with constant character and scene changes.  Every detail, and there are many, could be relevant or mean nothing.  In any case, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is far and away the most clever story I have ever read.  Having said that, there were times when I wondered how much more the author was expecting me to absorb - or believe.  But you'll reach a point when what you believe has very little to do with things and all that matters is the truth behind a family's tragedy.

My recommendation is this....if you're not about to spend a lot of money going on holiday this summer, spend whatever it takes to buy this book.  The value and experience will be well worth it, and how Stuart Turton brought it all together, I'll never know.

Berlin by Catherine Abel

4 comments:

  1. But I was planning to read The Voyage Out on the beach, just because I like the image of me doing that. :)
    I think it's too funny that the American edition (coming out in September) is called "The 7 1/2 Deaths..." Really. Did someone do a fact check? :)

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  2. Choices, choices....The Voyage Out makes you feel as though you've been plunked down in another exotic location...and forget all about the laundry. Seven Deaths will consume you for days on end and provide more entertainment than you bargained for given the price of the book. You can't lose, Audrey!!
    As for the title change on this side of the pond....how ridiculous! And it doesn't roll off the tongue quite as nicely either. Oh dear......

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  3. well done to you! I retired defeated after about three deaths. Such a demanding and labyrinthine plot! Heard Rachel at Book Snob enthuse about this too. Maybe I needed to devour it in one setting, but it is quite a tome.
    Should I tuck it away for an uninterrupted beach holiday read?

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  4. I confess that at one point, it occurred to me...if I skip the next 150 pages, would it make any difference? But the angel sitting on my shoulder (the one that talks you out of silliness) made sure I stayed on track. I wouldn't have guessed the ending no matter how many stabs (sorry) I was given so it all worked out for the best. Don't give up, ana!

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