The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (Book Review)
I Tweet that I’ll soon be reading The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. It isn’t long before I receive the following replies:
I recommend a murder board on the fridge and reading it in as few sittings as possible before you forget all the things
It’s amazing. Also, my mum created a spreadsheet. Just sayin
I’m now nervous. Disconcerted. I’ve heard nothing but praise for this book for some time: it’s a book I’ve anticipated, one of those books I wish I had the time to read. So I surreptitiously slipped it into my book club’s suggestion jar, knowing this would assuage that voice in my head that has control over my TBR; that inner Manager. And now, here I am, ready to begin but now daunted. I’m not blessed with the most logical of brains. Problem solving is not one of my strengths.
I set these concerns aside. Perhaps it won’t be so bad? I’ll see how I go first, shouldering this gratefully-received advice, but intending to simply go with the flow and see where it takes me.
I am sucked into that disorientating vortex of an opening and I revel in the exhilaration of it. All those usual things you expect to find in the opening of a story are gone, stripped away, as I find myself wondering who this character is. The character doesn’t even know. The sense of amnesia feels real, feels utterly believable; until an entirely more sinister realisation begins to dawn upon me. I read and I read; I need to know what is happening here. Foremost is the mystery but I’m already in love with the setting. I’m in the most atmospheric of dreams. I’m stumbling up the driveway of du Maurier’s Manderley, lost in this world of Country Houses, claustrophobic woodlands, and the oppressive British weather.
I keep the book close to hand, snatching any opportunity to read. I feel caught up in the character’s desperation, standing in the kitchen devouring more of the story as I wait for the kettle to boil. I feel the call of Blackheath upon me as the layers build and build. I remember the advice of my friends but wonder how one could lineate such a story? How could a chart on my fridge untangle this delicate cats’ cradle? I have a theory tenuously gathering at the edges – it’s Cathy’s ghost dancing through the fog on the lawn… I run to it as it gains form but suddenly a new theory comes careening into me and I’m flummoxed once more.
At last, too soon, I am at the end. It has taken me completely by surprise; I knew I would enjoy this book, the concept had intrigued me so, but I’m shocked by just how deeply I dove into it. Not to mention how surprised I am by the plot itself – safe to say my theory had been incorrect. I stand, alone, and look at the book, sitting innocuously on the counter. I want to pick it back up and immediately reread it. I’m not ready to leave Blackheath and its guests. Manager refuses, she is furious, she gesticulates to my workload, the book I had been reading betrayed on the coffee table, my stack of gifted books abandoned… I snarl at her but acquiesce, conceding that I’ve yet to discuss the novel in book club, and that the author will be in an event nearby soon.
It is the morning of my book club, and I am eager to relive this gripping story in the form of discussion and debate with my friends. But as we gather and make our orders in the cafe, their furtive guilt-ridden glances at me tell a story of their own. Confessions sidle across the table of confusion, utterances that the story is complicated… My ally and I share a look – what is happening? Do they not marvel at the intricacy of what is an incredibly clever book? Do they not wonder at the sheer depth of the characters, the way the author portrays the inner turmoil when the personalities clash within one host? The journey of learning who to trust, how to use these characters to one’s advantage, the gradual build up and then disintegration of the notion of self, of true self, of the ways in which we hide ourselves? The over-arcing idea of the ability to change and forgive? One member brashly declares that she hasn’t read the end and Ally and I gasp – the notion that you didn’t want to know who killed Evelyn Hardcastle entirely alien to us.
But there is hope. One member hasn’t read the book at all; she’s only at the cafe because her initial engagement for that day had fallen through. She is curious. She loves the sound of this story woven from such threads as an Agatha Christie murder mystery and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. We have enticed her to Blackheath and now I wait, anxiously, to see if it has claimed another victim.
Our book club over, Ally and I are huddled on a corner where our paths home separate and we relive the horror of the morning. Our voices incredulous, we marvel that our fellow club members did not enjoy a story which we ourselves struggle to find fault with. We conspire on our corner, swapping the different theories we’d had, appreciating not only the puzzle of the plot, but the inventiveness of it and the truly wonderful prose employed by the author.
It’s the kind of book that demands you immerse yourself within it. It requires your full attention—and I gave mine freely, consumed as I was—but I suppose I must concede that the head-hopping nature of the narrative would not be to everyone’s taste. The sheer complexity of this story is what set it apart for me; I couldn’t help but admire Turton’s craftsmanship in creating such a clever story. Secondly, I felt the characters were so well-written; each was utterly believable, they had such depth it was hard to accept they were fictitious.
As ever, I try to keep my review as spoiler-free as possible and I think that’s especially important in the case of this book. Step into this world with an open mind. Be sure to suspend your disbelief at the door.