(Shown above, the US and UK covers!)
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle blew me away, so much so that I actually didn’t take my usual notes. I just read it, from beginning to end, using my Kindle’s glorious highlight abilities to keep track of the various threads weaving through Blackheath house. The concept of the book is wonderfully unique – a man has eight days to solve a murder, living the day over and over again in a series of host bodies and attempting to solve the riddle of just who murdered Evelyn Hardcastle.
“My mind has gone blank. I don’t know who Anna is or why I’m calling her name. I don’t even know how I got here.”
And you are literally dropped right in there, a man is bleeding, standing in the middle of a forest screaming a woman’s name, unable to remember who or where he is, and he hears a woman being shot. There’s no run up to this, no gradual introduction of the concept, just ‘what on earth is going on here OH GOD THERE’S BEEN A MURDER ALREADY’. Each host comes with their own physical and mental talents and drawbacks, meaning that the mysterious protagonist has to fight to find traits in each that he can use. Of course, it isn’t until he wakes up on the second day that he realises something terrible is happening to him. He hasn’t just lost his memory from too much drink and wandered into the woods, he isn’t Sebastian Bell – the cowardly doctor who viewed Blackheath with such confusion, but that just means he doesn’t know who he is at all.
“I have the sense of having stumbled upon something sleeping, that uncertain light the heartbeat of a creature vast and dangerous and still.”
Blackheath is a hotbed of lies and manipulation that crosses class barriers and hides murder and bribery behind smiles and dancing. In Blackheath, nobody is what they seem and they are willing to do anything to prevent the truth from coming out. It has been nineteen years to the day since the murder of Thomas Hardcastle, Evelyn’s brother, and clouds gather overhead.
This book is stunningly written, the crumbling house and its inhabitants – each individual, most of whom are despicable, are rendered in such exquisite and realistic detail that envisioning it is no trouble at all. From Doctor ‘Dickie’, characterised initially and often thereafter by his enormous moustache, to the halls freshly painted and reeking of paint, the reflecting pool where Evelyn dies again and again to the skeletal remnants of a boathouse long abandoned after the tragic death of a child. Haunted by chess pieces carved with names, notes and warnings that make no sense, and a looming figure in a plague doctor’s mask, the protagonist – Aiden Bishop (hardly a spoiler, it is in the blurb) – struggles to make sense of the day’s events. The same thing happens every day, and yet there are so many secrets at work, so many motivations and actions that even in the isolated setting of Blackheath it seems almost impossible to get to the bottom of it. We see conversations overheard from multiple perspectives, actions explained by the actions of Bishop’s hosts yet to come. Afraid of ruining the plans he is formulating, Bishop scarcely interacts with previous or future hosts, waiting instead to see the world through their eyes and add thread to the tapestry. The timeline bounces back and forth – Bishop has a day with each host, bouncing back and forth between them when he falls asleep or unconscious…or when he is murdered. It is complex, exhilarating and endlessly changing. One mystery is solved, two more show up – there’s something more at play here than one party, one murder, one guilty party, one victim. History repeats itself in more ways than one as Bishop stumbles about Blackheath, trying to find the mysterious Anna whose name was on his lips the first moment he awoke.
“I’m a man in purgatory, blind to the sins that chased me here.”
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a masterfully crafted story of guilt, redemption, murder and identity. Unaware of who he once was, Aiden Bishop is forced to make himself in the image of who he wants to be, trapped in the crumbling prison of Blackheath house and the endless cycle of death that keeps him there. A fresh look at the murder mystery genre that’s sure to leave a lasting impression, this is definitely one I’ll be talking about for a long time.
Overall rating: 📖📖📖📖📖 5 books out of 5.
A copy of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.