‘The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ by Stuart Turton is a mystery and thriller with a twist of the whodunit genre. This currently has an average rating of 3.9 on Goodreads and I rated it 3 stars.
The story follows Aiden Bishop as he is tasked with finding Evelyn Hardcastle’s killer. Everyday he wakes up on the day of her murder and everyday he fails to save her at the party or solve her murder, doomed to repeat the day over and over again. But each day he wakes in a body of a different person and he’s not the only guest whose been invited to solve the mystery, there are others there and someone is desperate to stop him solving the murder and escaping.
“So many memories and secrets, so many burdens. Every life has such weight. I don’t know how anybody carries even one.”
This novel is complex and it takes a lot to keep track of all the characters and everything going on, it is not a light read and you truly do need to concentrate on what you’re reading to ensure it continues to make sense. However it’s still manages not to get bog-downed by a complex plot and is still entertaining, this is due to there being plenty of action and a brilliant cast of characters to carry such a heavy plot – it’s very well done. Although I had a few issue with this, I think some are down to personal taste and others are based more in criticism.
I think my main praise of this novel is what a clever twist this is on the classic whodunit concept. Whilst this is still very much an whodunit it goes much deeper than that, and there are so many twists and turns with deeply complex characters that it never grows weary or boring. So instead of having your classic detective in an whodunit you have a man who isn’t a detective playing the part of a detective in different bodies each day, and he can’t remember more than eight days at a time – he gets eight bodies and then his memory is wiped. It’s an ingenious way of keeping that genre alive, because it still sticks to the core foundations of the genre whilst also reinventing them. Turton, if he wanted to, could set another whodunit in this world again with a different cast of characters doomed to live in a number of different bodies to solve a different crime, it’s clever because the concept is not limited to this story alone, it has the potential to work and feel new in a range of stories.
The plot is also quite complex and it must have taken ages to plot out, and I certainly don’t envy the author for the job they had to face in planning and writing this novel. Every little plot line feeds into another until as a reader you’re left with this tangled web that you can’t make sense of and have to be led along like a child – which is the mark of a good whodunit.
As well as this, whilst I’m not going to talk about any specific character in great detail as there are too many to choose from, every character is done well in this. Even the ones we don’t know a lot about feel like they have a personality, and are not just some blank slate that’s only purpose is to push the protagonist or plot forward. Every character feels like their own person, even if we don’t know them well or they don’t appear for very long, you can still get a sense of who they are – which is reflective of real life I think. However, I would have liked to have seen more depth from the antagonist, but they’re still done well and I could still understand their motives as a character.
Most of my issues with this book came towards the end when we got to the ‘big reveal’ and the solution of the plot. I found it to be extremely dissatisfying personally, and part of this may be due to how really the allure of a mystery novel is the mystery not the reveal, however I also don’t think the reveal lived up to the mystery. For a book that gave such a great re-imagination of the whodunit genre, I found the ending to be a bit predictable and it’s certainly been done before – every problem was solved a little be too easily in the end.
I liked the focus on forgiveness, atonement and rehabilitation surrounding those who have committed crimes or done people wrong. It was refreshing to see a book that fully faced the idea that these people had done evil, terrible things but they were still capable of change and becoming better people – something I think we all sometimes forget that can happen. However, I don’t think this was handled in the best of ways. Our main character, Aiden, forgives a woman, Anna, for torturing and murdering his sister, an event he doesn’t remember and this truth is revealed to him after he befriends and chooses to trust her. Whilst this could have been an interesting and poignant point in the novel if discussed in depth, instead it felt like Aiden just decided that didn’t matter too quickly and forgave Anna anyway. Forgiveness doesn’t work like that, especially in this context, because whilst family members of victims may choose to forgive the person who hurt someone they loved it doesn’t happen that quickly or easily, it’s a very complex and personal thing and this seemed to try and simplify it.
I do also want to mention that there are some reviewers who have mentioned fatphobia in the context of reviewing this book, whilst there was body-shaming in relation to weight in this, I read it as a reflection of the product of it’s time rather than something the author was endorsing. I do recommend you look at other reviews if reading something like this may be upsetting for you in any way.
Overall I did enjoy this book for the majority of it, I didn’t see every twist in the plot coming and Tuarton somehow made me care for a lot of different characters at once. Unfortunately I think this is another one of those cases where the ending lets down the rest of the book, due to the lack of further discourse on forgiveness and what I thought was a dissatisfying ending for the mystery in this novel.