Conventional wisdom cautions, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but thankfully, author Stuart Turton must not have gotten the memo. His debut novel, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, is a daring and wildly imaginative spin on the tried, tested and true English manor house murder mystery trope that manages to be both comfortingly familiar and absolutely unlike anything readers have ever encountered before.
Turton’s devilishly devious debut opens in a forest with our protagonist screaming the name Anna. With his next inhalation, he realizes that not only does he have no idea who Anna is, but he also has no memory of anything at all—including his own identity. As he struggles to make his way out of the forest, a shot rings out, and a woman appears to be killed before his very eyes. In a panic, he manages to make his way to the foreboding and elegantly decaying estate of Blackheath in search of assistance. However, our narrator eventually comes to realize that the forest murder is but the first of many, and that solving this crime is not his ultimate objective. Rather, a mysterious masked man informs him that beautiful heiress Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed that night, and it is up to the protagonist to figure out who committed the crime. If he fails to uncover the killer before the day is done, he’ll wake up in a different guest’s body to relive the day and try again. After the eighth day, his memory will be wiped clean, and he’ll start the cycle all over again. Only when the murderer is unmasked will Blackheath release its hold on our dilettante detective and allow him to leave the grounds for good.
Blending elements from Quantum Leap, Groundhog Day and Clue, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle turns the conventional murder mystery novel on its head while simultaneously elevating the genre to new, exhilarating heights. Turton has crafted a dizzying game of cat and mouse that will keep readers on their toes as they attempt to keep up with the various loops through time and make sense of all the clues that are scattered by the various hosts over the course of the day. Initially the reader’s confusion mirrors that of the narrator, but this only increases the reader’s sense of satisfaction when the many pieces of Turton’s complex puzzle begin to slot into pace and all is made clear.
An intellectual thriller that would likely stump the likes of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a must-read for any reader wishing to give their little gray cells a workout.