Monday, August 10, 2020

Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Reviewed by Jeanne

As the book opens, our narrator finds himself in the woods.  He doesn’t know who he is or how he got there.  Then to his shock and horror, he sees a woman shot. He finds his way to a house to report what he has seen and is told he is Dr. Sebastian Bell, but that ignites no memories nor does he recognize anyone else in the house.  He does know a name:  Anna, but he doesn’t know who that is or why he feels he needs to find her.

When answers come, they are as confusing as everything else.  A strange figure, dressed like a medieval plague doctor complete with mask, informs him that his name is really Aiden Bishop and that he is here to solve a murder, the death of Evelyn Hardcastle.  The day will repeat eight times. Each morning he will become a different person in the household.  Each day he will try to figure out the mystery . . . or be trapped in an endless loop of time.

I was a little reluctant to try this book as it all sounded very complicated and confusing and more than a little weird, but I was talked into reading it.  I’m glad I was.  While it is all of the above, it’s also very clever and well executed.  One of the most interesting parts to me was how Aiden was helped or hindered by the host body: he feels the host’s impulses, for example.  At some points, he struggles to hold onto his own sense of self while collecting and examining clues.  Early on he also learns that he isn’t the only interloper here: there are others trying to solve the puzzle to escape, but he is told there can only be one winner.

Of course, while we (and Aiden) try to solve this country house murder, the other great puzzle of the book looms: what is this place? Why is this happening?

I ended up enjoying the book immensely.  I like the complex characters, the British aristocratic setting, vaguely 1920s, and the puzzles.  It’s been described as Quantum Leap meets Groundhog Day meets Agatha Christie, and I would not disagree.   I had some problems with the final revelations until I thought it through and came up with an answer that satisfied me, but your mileage may vary.

Overall, while I liked it, I can see why other people have complained.  I found it inventive and intriguing.  It’s one of those books that you want other people to read so you two can discuss.

Fun fact:  The book’s title in the UK is The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.  Why the extra half death?  Well, here it came out about the same time as The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid and there was concern about the similarities of the titles. Who knew Evelyn would be such a popular name in 2018?

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