Monday, October 29, 2018

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton: Reading Room Review

“Every time the day begins, Aiden wakes up in a different body, and each body he inhabits is a guest of the masquerade. The only way he can escape this loop is solve the murder, but if he can’t do it in 8 days, he has to start the loop over again, losing the memories of everything he’s learnt previously.”

I guess it’s only fitting that the uniqueness of this twisted tale has resulted in a review from me that is unlike any review I’ve ever given. I was confused in this story for well over a hundred pages in this book, which caused me to be frustrated and wondering if I should just call it a day and move onto another book. I thought that my confusion was going to remain and that the book was flawed or remiss in its unfolding of the story. But, being on the stubborn side and still maintaining a curiosity about how the main character was ever going to survive the maze in which he found himself, I continued reading. I was rewarded with clarity and such a brilliantly layered story that I have ended up in awe of Stuart Turton’s cleverness. 

Turton has created a main character, Aiden Bishop, who was himself confused and full of questions about what the hell was going on, and the reader was right there with Aiden, confused and frustrated and wondering what the hell was going on. Nicely done, Stuart Turton. How much more can a reader identify with a character than feeling the emotions that character is feeling? And, as the character works through the maze, so does the reader. Of course, it’s little wonder that confusion is at the forefront, with Aiden Bishop in a different person’s body each day for eight days. You do need to pay attention. This is not a novel that you can read in short bits and come back to on and off. My suggestion is to read as much as you can at a sitting and hold onto the information that is building. I am especially writing a review to encourage those who, like me, may have thoughts of abandoning the book. Don’t. You will miss out on a masterpiece of storytelling if you take the easy way out. Did I mention that The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is Stuart Turton’s debut book? You will marvel at that fact as you read through this puzzle of murder and deception. 

I thought the book description rather short on the inside flap of the book, but I understand why now. It’s impossible to justly describe a plot that constantly twists and turns to the satisfaction of someone beginning its journey. You have to read-it/live-it to get it, and you have to, as Aiden Bishop is forced to do daily, jump right in and start running with it. So, my description will be briefer than my normal ones are, too. (Again, a different review than I’ve ever done.) 

Aiden Bishop wakes up one morning in a forest, where he hears a woman scream for help and a gunshot, but he cannot find the woman and is given a compass by an unknown person to make his way back to the Blackheath estate’s mansion. He is not in his own body, and he learns from a mysterious creature called the Plague Doctor, because that is how the person is dressed or disguised, that there will be a murder of Evelyn Hardcastle that evening at 11:00 p.m. It is Aiden’s mission to find out who is behind the murder if he wants to escape a cycle of changing bodies every day for the next eight days. While maintaining his own thoughts, Aiden also has knowledge and thoughts of his host body and must work within the relationships that host has with the other guests who are staying at the estate for a party occurring that night. It’s a gauntlet of hit and miss for Aiden, and there is a character named only “the footman” who will try to kill the host in which Aiden resides. If Aiden fails to solve the mystery in the eight days, the cycle of changing bodies starts over, along with the learning curve. The characters whom Aiden inhabits are all very different, with troubling issues of their own that play into the forward movement of the day’s timeline. It is a play within a play within a play within a play … It is fascinating. 

I’ve seen this book compared to Agatha Christie, pertaining to the setting and stock country-house guests characters, but this book is Agatha Christie with teeth, big sharp teeth. Delightfully dark and chilling, there are parts where you will cringe with discomfort, but with Aiden Bishop, unfortunately, the phrase “no pain, no gain” is a proven truth. It seems that Turton has played right to my favorite elements of a mystery. I love a locked-room mystery, and as there is no escape from the estate, the world in which Aiden finds himself, until he can solve the murder, it is in every sense that counts, a locked-room situation. Another tool of the trade I enjoy is the unreliable narrator, and those are plentiful in this story, as Aiden is burdened not only with solving a murder but doing it with the thoughts and feelings of his host bodies’ influences. He stumbles down the wrong path and draws the wrong conclusions more than once. Who to trust and who to believe is a constant issue. 

So, if you need an exceptional read, one that will keep you looking behind the curtains and doors for a killer or two, you don’t want to miss The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. It’s so worth the beginning confusion, once you realize that a little manipulation of your mind is all part of the game in this extraordinary story.

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