The Cambridge Geek

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle - Stuart Turton

A man wakes in the forest, with no memories, but the name "Anna" shouting from his lips. Looking about him, he catches a glimpse of a woman running through the trees, and a moment later, someone chasing her. He attempts to help, but is stunned by a sudden gunshot, and is distressed to discover he's a coward when the gunman catches him offguard. Fortunately, he is not the prey the gunman wants for now, and is instead directed to a nearby house.

There he gets a stiff drink and a talking to from The Plague Doctor, a mysterious stranger who wears the traditional cloak and beaked mask, and has a bit of exposition for him. It would seem he is here to solve a murder. A murder that hasn't happened yet, to make it even trickier.

Luckily, the man he sees in the mirror, Sebastian Bell, is not who he really is. Instead he's merely possessing him, as part of an elaborate scheme to solve the murder of the eponymous Evelyn Hardcastle.

He will live the same day over and over, eight times in total, waking up in the morning, doing something hopefully clever in the meantime, and then trying to unravel the death of Evelyn at the party her parents are throwing that evening. Pretty much Groundhog day crossed with The Sexy Brutale.

What makes it even more complex is the tricky fact that it's actually all the same day, and he's going to be living through it in different people. For eight "days", he's going to wake up as a different person, and all of his selves will need to work together in order to solve the mystery. All he has on his side is himself, and maybe the mysterious Anna.

At the same time, there are rivals trying to solve the problem before him. Only the one who finds the answer will be allowed to escape this trap, and the others aren't shy about stopping him the hard way.

Which makes the book mostly one giant puzzle, with a timeline that makes Primer look like Mr. Tickle. You can, if you wish, follow along with a notepad and pen, and see if you can plot out the order of things. I did consider it, at the two thirds mark, but I was enjoying the book far too much to go back to the start.

There are a lot of different things going on in this, and you have to balance a few strings in your head simultaneously. It would be fair to call it challenging, especially if you get dragged away from it for a while. I can see coming back to it and not being quite sure what's going on.

That makes it favour a rapid read, in two or three sittings over a couple of days. Thankfully, I don't think that will pose any problems. It is remarkably compelling, with a considerable drive in the main plotting, and a very sympathetic protagonist. Each of his days gets a new viewpoint, into the mind of the host for that day, and each host comes with its own baggage. The sheer range of emotions and frustrations the story runs through is impressive.

But it's by no means heavily focused on the character study either. The mystery plotting is very sharp and is about twelve layers deep. You'll find yourself constantly impressed at the cleverness being revealed, as a new element fits neatly into place. Reminds me to an extent of Gnomon.

All in all though, an excellent book. Give it a go.

Score 5

Tagged: Book Fantasy Time travel Novel Print