Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!
I’ll admit to being not much of a mystery reader; I’m terrible at predicting who perpetrated (x) crime, so I just end up going along for the ride like a dog sticking its head out of a car window. But I thoroughly enjoyed Evelyn Hardcastle, from its consistent suspense to its creative takes on the genre.
Enjoy this week’s review!
Aiden Bishop has no memory of who he is, or who he was before. All he knows is this: he is currently attending a masquerade ball at Blackheath Manor, and that at the end of the night, a famous socialite by the name of Evelyn Hardcastle will die. Every day, time starts over, and Bishop wakes up in the body of a different party guest. The only way for him to break out of Blackheath Manor is to answer this question: who killed Evelyn Hardcastle?
TW/CW: murder, suicide, gunshot wounds, near-death situations, forced marriage, poisoning, drinking
Listen. I don’t often read mysteries, but even with a limited body of work to base my thoughts off of, I can say with certainty that this is one of the most creative mysteries that I’ve ever read.
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle has drawn comparisons to the likes of everything from Agatha Christie to Groundhog Day, and I can see the threads of both in this novel! It certainly had the feel of a classic mystery, and the cyclical, time-twisting element reminded me a lot of Groundhog Day with very different stakes. In fact, Turton’s playing with time is what made Evelyn Hardcastle such an enjoyable book; with each day that Aiden experiences, the stakes are raised even higher, building a very unique brand of suspense. I’m not usually one for back-and-forth time jumps, but Evelyn Hardcastle had a precise and clear reason for doing so, and the chapter layout worked just as well to increase the tension.
Going into Evelyn Hardcastle, the concept of switching between the bodies of guests was what intrigued me most. This aspect was easily the most well-executed element of them all, bringing in a twisty and creative factor to a mystery that would otherwise seem like any other period piece murder. The fact that all of the guests were, on some level, deplorable people made this facet of the book all the better; each one of them had any number of nasty skeletons in their closets, which made the question of Evelyn’s murder all the more intriguing—it could have been anyone.
I didn’t expect for the mystery to be an orchestrated test as well; the added element of multiple body-switching guests and the enigmatic Plague Doctor character created a new layer of suspense, which not only made the stakes higher, but also stranger. The idea that the key to Aiden’s freedom was solving Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder was all the more interesting given that this twisted “game” of sorts was orchestrated by any number of cryptic agents was such an inventive way of creating tension, so hats off to Turton for finding all sorts of ways to craft a suspenseful mystery!
Plus, the amount of red herrings that got thrown around…I’m notoriously bad at a) figuring out mysteries, and b) falling for false bait, so I tend to give up on trying to solve the mystery itself and just go along for the ride. That being so, I loved all the ways that Turton threw us off the trail as readers; in multiple instances, there were times that Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder seemed deceptively simple, but there were ruses on top of ruses (or: a donut hole in a donut’s hole) that slowly unfolded to uncover the real cause of her death. I’m sure that it’s just the kind of thing that mystery readers eat up—and I certainly ate it up, even as someone who rarely reads in the genre.
Also, without spoiling anything—the fact that Evelyn Hardcastle could technically count as sci-fi (according to the interview with Stuart Turton) makes it so much more fascination, not just because I love sci-fi so much, but because of the implications that has for the origin of Blackheath Manor in the first place. FASCINATING stuff.
All in all, a crafty mystery that employed all manner of creative twists to hook the reader in. 4 stars!
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a standalone, and it was Stuart Turton’s debut novel. Turton is also the author of The Devil and the Dark Water, and contributed to the anthology You Are Not Alone.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!