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Random Readings: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

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Let's play a death game...

AUTHOR: Stuart Turton
PUBLICATION DATE: February 8th 2018
GENRES: Mystery; Murder; Crime; Thriller; Sci-fi; Historical
Goodreads | Amazon UK | Amazon US 

"Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out."
You know, for a self-professed all-round reader, I haven't read many crime novels... and this is coming from someone who was obsessed with Detective Conan as a teen and still dives head-first into the series when she feels like it. The most I've invested myself in the genre is the Lady Emily series, but even the novelty of those wore out after three novels, and to be honest I wasn't reading them for the mysteries as much as for the characters (*cough* I ship the main couple HARD *cough*).
I'm more of a sci-fi/fantasy kind of girl, so perhaps it's just that anything too close to reality bores me. If I wanted a dose of reality and a reminder of how horrible the world is I might as well switch on the news. Don't get me wrong, I love drama, but as I put it once to a friend: it's not that I dislike orphans, it's just that I prefer orphans in space.
Well... I found my orphans in space, murder mystery edition.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is about a man that wakes up in the woods. He has no recollection of who he is or what he's doing there. With the obscure help of a stranger he somehow makes it back to Blackheath, the mansion he is staying at for Lord and Lady Hardcastle's party, along a handful of other guests. After a long day of terror and mysterious events, he falls asleep and welcomes morning... only to experience the same day again, in a different body.
The man's name is Aiden Bishop. He is trapped in a cycle that sees the repetition of the same day, one he lives each time through the different eyes of a guest attending the Hardcastle's evening party. And every day at 11 p.m. exactly, heiress and star of the party Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered. To escape this hellish loop and recover his memories he must solve her murder, but he only has eight hosts and eight days to do so...


THIS. BOOK. IS. SO. GOOD. (ʘ‿ʘ✿)

No joke: I started his book at 8 A.M. and finished it at 2 A.M. that very same day. I paused to make lunch and supper, but otherwise I near read this book for 12 hours straight. That's how badly hooked I was. (I almost forgot to pee.)
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is one helluva ride in more sense than one. On the surface it seems like any other whodunit Golden Age-esque mystery novel set against the surreal backdrop of 2017's horror film Happy Death Day (or 1993's Groundhog Day, if you're more of a classics person), and to a large extent that's really all that it is: Aiden Bishop has eight days to solve Evelyn Hardcastle's murder, and he must do so whilst borrowing the bodies of the various hosts staying at Blackheath for the party. There are a few other elements that add spice to the setting, including a creepy man that oversees everything that happens, other contestants that are also fighting against the clock to solve the mystery, and a mysterious menace that wants Aiden dead, but truth be told... that's as far as the sci-fi in this book goes. The mystery itself is very down-to-earth, and aliens don't pop in last-minute to steal the show or anything. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
And heck, let's be real — even the sci-fi setting itself isn't that revolutionary. A protagonist stuck in a time loop is nothing new to the world of fiction, and if the two aforementioned films aren't enough to prove that, read Hiroshi Sakurazaka's All You Need is Kill (or watch 2014's film adaptation Edge of Tomorrow, whichever floats your boat). So what makes it so special?

The thing with Seven Deaths is that it's masterfully complex, intricately crafted, and impressively unique. If there's anything the tortuous experience of watching the Haruhi Suzumiya Endless Eight saga taught me it's that repeating the same events eight times can get very tiring, very quickly (this is why you have to read the novels, children), and yet Stuart Turton manages to spin a story that is engaging from beginning to end. Aiden may be repeating the same day eight times, but with every host he inhabits comes a different set of abilities, different guests he gets to interact with, and different opportunities he did not have in the body of the others.
This book is a mystery through and through: There is meaning in every detail, in every thought, and in every missed opportunity. This isn't a book you can read whilst taking a stroll in the park — it requires a fair amount of brainpower and attention. Sure, the author is kind enough to remind us of past events here and there (God bless him, for I have the memory span of a goldfish), but holy doritos, it's so easy to lose track of everything. There's a very helpful map and list of characters in the form of an invitation at the beginning of the book, but I bought the kindle copy and couldn't be bothered to go back to it... which honestly was stupid of me, because half the time I couldn't remember who was who and where we'd last seen them. (I'm really not a very clever creature.)
But even that isn't the best part of the novel. Wonderfully written in a prose that's almost lyrical, this book keeps you second guessing, pulls the rug from underneath your feet when you least expect it, and strikes a perfect balance between solving problems and raising new questions that compels you to turn the page, and the next, and the next. It literally feels like you're chasing the mystery across the chapters, always just out of reach, and it's easy to feel for Aiden's frustration and get sucked into the setting. The chain of mysteries and suspense is so perfectly woven that you literally do not solve the entire thing until the very last page, God damn it have you any idea how many litres of water I sweated through my palms reading that last 10% of the book?????


Spoiler Talk

Scroll down the FINAL VERDICT if you don't want to be spoiled!

There aren't many details in this novel I feel I must talk about individually, but hey. I'll add a small spoiler comment just to keep up tradition.
I feel that my main issue with the revelations at the end of the book is that the setting isn't actually real. According to the creepy dude in a plague doctor costume that follows Aiden around and acts as his warden, Blackheath is a purgatory of sorts where only the most horrible of horrible people get sent to repent and be reformed. In other words, it's a maze / puzzle set up by someone, and though according to creepy plague doctor Evelyn Hardcastle was real and her murder did in fact happen and was never solved, the current setting is essentially a stage full of actors. As exciting as the premise is, I admit that I was sort of disappointed in this... because it takes away the sense of threat.
I also found this whole supernatural explanation slightly confusing, because in the end we don't know whether Aiden has time-travelled to the past, or whether the murder has been recreated in some different dimension that can cause a day to loop over and over. But well, I didn't care too much about those details. I was in it mainly for the mystery(the outcome of which I thoroughly enjoyed), but I can see how it could bother a more picky reader.
As for the mystery itself; a good chunk of it, in particular the revelation about Evelyn not actually being the real Evelyn, took my compleeeeetly by surprise. The only thing I guessed correctly (and I guessed it pretty late in the book, because I'm slow) was the fact that Daniel Coleridge wasn't a future Adien, but another competitor tricking him into believing he was. At some point I also speculated that the plague doctor dude was Aiden, or that Aiden and Anna were actually Lady Hardcastle and Charlie Carver (the man accused of murdering Thomas Hardcastle 19 years ago)... lol yeah, none of my speculations hit the mark. I would make a terrible detective. ( ᐛ )و


FINAL VERDICT!

BANANAS


My lovelies, I cannot recommend this novel enough. It's beautifully written and full of memorable quotes! If I absolutely had to nitpick, I'd say that the supporting characters all feel like cardboard clippings or stereotypes pulled out of a muffin mould, but truth be told Aiden and his hosts are complex enough to make up for it plenty. If you're a mystery fan you'll love The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, and if you're not... then perhaps this is the novel that will do it for you.


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Posted on: 15/03/2018

PS. I'm feeling the need for more mysteries after this wild ride. Drop your recommendations in a comment or a tumblr ask if you have any!!



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