Friday, January 04, 2019
Stuart Turton - The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Combining a complex time-traveling plot with elements of Gothic horror and a classic whodunnit set in an English stately home, this is an intriguing novel that deserves the praise its been getting from reviewers. While not entirely as novel an idea as some suggest - it reminded me a great deal of Claire North's The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - it is original enough to suck the reader into the frightening world of Aiden Bishop.
Every evening, during a plush party at her family's country home, the crumbling Blackheath, Evelyn Hardcastle dies at 11pm. For a small number of individuals this has happened thousands of times the day repeating when they wake up. Aiden Bishop experiences it slightly differently - when he wakes up he inhabits a different person, retaining his memories of the previous day, until they are also reset after a week; when the whole cycle restarts. Bishop quickly learns that if he is to escape he needs to find out what is happening and that will require him solving the mystery within the limitations of the bodies he inhabits - he carries with him their health issues, and their characteristics - and avoiding the wild card in the house - the Footman who seems bent on killing the people Bishop inhabits.
In the afterword Stuart Turton tells of the long gestation period for the book. After finishing it I hoped that I would find an online map that showed the various interactions taken by the key characters, but perhaps no one has managed to complete this complex task. It's a task that is made difficult by the way that characters in the story, including Bishop, can change events depending on their actions. It's also worth noting that Blackheath itself, the house and gardens, are a major part of the book - their crumbling decor, faded gradeur and long hidden mysteries, forming a perfect backdrop to the story.
Like all good murder-mysteries almost everyone has secrets that affect the story, and nothing (or nobody) is quite what they seem. Turton's book is tightly written, and I was surprised to find no obvious plot holes - the story is so complex, the characters so interweaving, that I kept thinking it wouldn't hold together. I did find that my enjoyment was reduced slightly by my desire from early on to know what was actually happening, and perhaps this is why I felt that the book (at around 500 pages) was slightly too long. But Turton keeps the tension up all the way until the last pages and the ending was, for me at least, extremely satisfying.
North - The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
North - Touch
North - The End of the Day
Mandel - Station Eleven