Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day meets Back To The Future.
The Hardcastles have invited all of their friends for a party at their manor house. That evening, a murder will take place. It will not look like a murder and the killer will not be caught. It is up to our protagonist Aiden to solve the mystery. Each morning he will wake up in the body of a different guest to re-live the same day from a different perspective. He has eight chances to unmask the killer: eight days in eight different hosts. If he doesn’t all of his memories will be erased and the cycle will start again from day one..
Even through this book has 505 pages, I read it in 3 days. I just HAD to know how it continued. Both because its premise is so interesting, and because Turton cleverly feeds you small amounts of information throughout the novel. Enough to keep you interested and feel like you’re making progress but too little to have you really figure it out. For me the penny often dropped just one page ahead of Aiden, which is very good storytelling: I felt very self-satisfied for figuring things out, without the boredom of knowing what will happen way ahead.
The Different Hosts
The way the book is set up with Aiden’s progression through the different hosts is very interesting. The hosts all have their very distinct personalities, which lead to both advantages and disadvantages and it is very satisfying to discover how all of their behaviour slots into place like the mechanics of a giant clock. At the same time, Aiden is able to make small changes to the progression of the day, making the plot only more intricate.
As we see the story through Aiden’s eyes we feel along with him, but apart from that (and not unlike many murder mysteries), it is hard to start caring for the other characters in the book. They serve as devices to move the plot forward rather than complex emotional beings. The impact of the murder is also lessened severely by the knowledge that the whole house will ‘reset’ in the morning and that all dead characters will come alive again.
Aiden spends a long time trying to prevent the murder rather than solving it. This makes him a sympathetic person, but it’s also quite clear from the beginning that those are not the rules of the game. Even if he prevents the murder one day, it will still happen the next. The only way to break the cycle is to find out who the murderer is, and thus Aiden’s attempts at heroism only feel like wasted time.
This wasted time feels as if Turton is stretching the length of the story. If Aiden had gotten right to it the book might have been 200 pages shorter.
I enjoyed the book being as long as it is because it meant that I could have more and more and more of it, but I can imagine that for the more casual reader it can take a long time to get through. The postponement of the solution may become a bit frustrating (though I suppose that is the case for most detective novels) and make it harder to recall the tiny details that become much more important later on in the story.
In short, I recommend picking The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle up when you’re ill, on holiday or for any other reason have the time to read longer stretches of it. With this caveat, it is a great detective story with an interesting setting and intricate plot that will delight many readers.
Note: This title is from the UK edition. In the US it’s called The Seven And A Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which in a way is more accurate, while at the same time it’s only more wrong. (We can debate this after you’ve read it :)). Either way, it’s an interesting editorial change, isn’t it?