Review: The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Updated: Sep 12, 2021
The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton (2018)
I enjoyed this book SO MUCH! It is as thrilling as it is confusing, but well worth the mental gymnastics it puts you through to get to the final reveals. This is Turton's debut novel, and was better than his second novel, The Devil & the Dark Water (reviewed here), which was also a lot of fun, but had a disappointing ending.
The book follows the investigation of the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle (as the title would suggest) while she is attending a party with a bunch of other well-to-do folks at her parents once-grand mansion. The twist is that she is murdered every single night. The main character, whose name we don't learn until well into the book, switches into a new body - someone else at the party - each day, getting varied perspectives of the day leading up to the murder. He has eight days to solve the murder, so eight different other people to live inside, learning what he can in each, and interacting with other version of himself inside another body. It's sort of a Groundhog Day Agatha Christie novel.
It is an incredibly intricate puzzle, and I can only image how complicated Turton's notes must have been to successfully map it all out! There were definitely times when I felt completely confused, but trust me, it's worth pushing through to the end, where all the fragments fall into place. It helps that there is a roster of names and relationships at the beginning of the book to refer back to. And this is definitely a read-not-listen kind of novel. I tried listening to it on Audible and it's just too complex to really be able to focus that way. It is such an involved and layered plot that it requires your full attention. And seeing it unfold piece by piece is by far the best part about it.
I will definitely be re-reading this book now that I've seen all those layers. I think it will be just as fun to watch the story be stitched together as it was to watch it unwind.
I do, however, have one major problem with the book: fat shaming. There is one character, Ravencourt, who is constantly described solely based on his weight. I won't bother to repeat any of the horrible imagery painted by Turton in his descriptions, because I don't want to spread that utter trash. But suffice it to say the author takes waaaaaaay too much pleasure in detailing all the "disgusting" and "humiliating" details about Ravencourt's body, to the point of distraction. The harmful effects of fat shaming include the risk of increased weight gain, eating disorders, anxiety and depression, and suicide. Hardly seems worth it for a few barbs that basically boil down to "haha look how gross he is."
It is a testament to how great the rest of the book is that I still highly recommend it, unless you are particularly sensitive to this issue.
A final note for those curious: The original UK version is titled The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, but in the States publishers said it was too close to an unrelated novel called The 7 Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. So the title was altered slightly for the US market. ALSO, the British version apparently has a map of the mansion's floor plan, which my copy did not... so I guess I'm going to have to buy the British hardcover, because I LOVE me a map, and I need to re-read it anyway.
UP NEXT: The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel