A fresh perspective on crime fiction plotting by the English debut author, Stuart Turton.
This is a much-discussed, critically acclaimed novel written by a freelance travel journalist, Stuart Turton, whose name all crime fiction aficionados should keep in mind from now on. The story is dependent on supernatural elements and the magical aspect is ever-present and all-powerful throughout the book's 500 pages. The reader must suspend his disbelief and delve into the narration of a murder mystery mixed with family drama, all wrapped in a whole that is reminiscent of the popular Agatha Christie cozy mysteries of the golden era of British crime fiction. Nevertheless, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle resists a strict genre categorization as it is a title that can be defined as a science fiction book or murder mystery, or even a literary novel.
The story begins with our first-person narrator, whose real name we learn later in the book, waking up in a forest at night screaming a female name, Anna, and having absolutely no recollection or idea of who he is and where he is at that moment. When he finds an ominous mansion in the forest's depth and knocks the door he finds out that he is one of the guests of Thomas and Helena Hardcastle in their Blackheath manor. Then he learns that his name is Sebastian Bell and he is a doctor as well as a friend of Michael Hardcastle, son of Thomas and Helena and brother of Evelyn Hardcastle. But when the day ends and Sebastian goes to his room to sleep, the next day he will wake up in another guest's body, the same soul inhabiting a body of a stranger. The protagonist will soon learn from a ghost-like character that he calls "Plague Doctor", that he is going to wake up each day in a new body for the next week. After the end of this week, the protagonist-narrator will have to reveal the truth behind Evelyn Hardcastle's tragic and suspicious suicide which happens every night, something that torments the central character who seems to hold certain character qualities that set him apart from the various hosts that he lives within every day. But as the days begin to pass it is apparent that his hosts gain growing power and as a result, the protagonist's decisions and actions are influenced by each host's moral orientation and ethical integrity.
Blackheath manor is a house where everybody holds one or more secrets and our hero will have to uncover them one by one to reach his target which is to discover the identity of the person behind Evelyn's suicide, as foul play is suspected. There is a lot of jumping back and forth in time as there are some plot elements that impose the novel's distorted timeline and structure that adds to the overall weird atmosphere of the story. I will not reveal anything more as I don't want to spoil the pleasure of reading Stuart Turton's exciting and suspenseful debut novel. The downside of this complex, over-elaborate plot is that in some parts the reader may get a bit confused or feel that the story is too convoluted and hard to follow. I suggest you stay patient and trust the author to give you all the answers wrapped up in the gratifying finale. There is nothing left open or not explain in the end and, certainly, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle will not be the first installment in a new series. It is a standalone novel that transcends genre categorization and requires an open as well as keen mind to be fully understood and appreciated. It is also one of the few times that such a book vindicates its hype. It is truly worthy of a 5-star rating.