If you enjoy cozy mysteries with quaint settings, homegrown sleuthing and an ending you could feasibly puzzle your way through, I suggest you back away slowly. “The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” by Stuart Turton is none of those things. But if you’re interested in a murder mystery that tosses you straight into an ocean of frantic confusion and an expansive web of interwoven threads from the very first page, read on.
Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered. This is not up for debate. The only questions are who is the killer, and how many times will she have to die before the truth is uncovered?
Our narrator wakes up in the middle of the woods, his mind devoid of any memory but the name “Anna.” He doesn’t know who he is, where he is or who Anna is. A scream and a gunshot spur him to action, but there’s nobody. Only after stumbling back to Blackheath, a crumbling manor tucked far away from civilization, does he find someone who can tell him his name.
There’s just one problem — Aiden Bishop is not himself. He soon learns he has been thrust into an out-of-body experience that defies reality. His consciousness is not in his body, but that of a guest attending a party at Blackheath in honor of Evelyn’s return home. Acting as Sebastian Bell, a man whose use of the title “doctor” is dubious as best, he has until 11 p.m. to discover who murders Evelyn.
If he fails, the day begins again, but this time Aiden wakes up in a different person’s body. He has eight days, eight witnesses to inhabit and eight chances to uncover who murders Evelyn Hardcastle.
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle delivers a brain-bending, mind-blowing, high-stakes story that blasts all expectations of a murder mystery out of the water. Readers are intentionally left as ignorant of the dark history surrounding Blackheath and its inhabitants as Aiden is, which builds an unshakeable layer of suspense that is frequently punctuated with shocking revelations.
As he moves from host to host, reliving a horror-filled day with a little bit more knowledge each time, it brings to mind movies like “Groundhog Day,” though Sandra Bullock’s “Premonition” would more accurately capture the feel of the book. If you like the looped time aspect of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” or the meeting-in-the-wrong-order timelines of “Doctor Who/River Song,” this book will definitely have something for you. “Downton Abbey,” but with murder.
Author Stuart Turton also delivers unexpected nuance to the “body snatcher” element.
Rather than Aiden’s hosts being empty vessels, they retain varying degrees of their natural inclinations and mental faculties. Some of them have sharp minds and spur the investigation forward. Some of them are in poor physical condition, limiting possibilities for exploration. Some of them are depraved, and Aiden has to struggle to discern which thoughts are his and which thoughts his host superimposes.
Since there are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of, this book would be best read at a steady pace, though the author is good about naturally including small recaps and reminders, particularly when the day “resets” for Aiden. The story unfolds with Aiden dropping himself hints in the past and guessing at who his future hosts might be, and mystery fans will love the unpredictability of the revelations that come up to the final pages.
The ultimate answer is not one you can deduce for yourself, but the intentionally concealed key facts are what make it so brilliant. Desperation ekes from every page as the clock counts down to Evelyn Hardcastle’s death again and again and again. And while her murder is a foregone conclusion, how many more lifeless bodies will there be by the time the days are done?
Hannah Ens is the communication specialist at the K-State Student Union.