Murder Mystery Wednesday: A Review of The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Updated: Apr 16, 2021
Hey all you Cool Cats and Kittens, welcome to today’s review. Today I bring a lovely little murder mystery tale entitled The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton.
Let me tell you a bit about this gem of a book. We meet our narrator, whose name we later learn is Aiden Bishop, as he awakens in the woods. He doesn’t know his name, doesn’t know where he is or what he’s doing. All he knows is that he’s injured and he’s in danger although he doesn’t know from who or what. As it turns out, Aiden isn’t in his actual body; he won’t be for awhile. Each day, he’ll be forced to live to the same day, in a different body, until he can solve the murder of the titular Evelyn Hardcastle and there are others out there who are trying to prevent him from solving the murder.
Author A.J. Finn has already given the best description for this book, it is a description that shall never be topped so I will put an abridged version here: Groundhog Day but make it Agatha Christie. That’s it, that’s the book. You shouldn’t need anything else to convince you to read this one. Seriously, you aren’t going to be disappointed.
As always, a spoiler alert is in order. Although I can’t spoil the whole thing given how twisty, turny this book is, you have been warned. A trigger warning is also necessary for this book. One of the characters is a confirmed rapist, and while nothing happens in the book, his behavior is not unknown and is brought up on occasion by other characters in the story.
I don’t think I can go about this review in the typical way I layout my reviews. I’d like to talk about the characters, but alas, Aiden Bishop does not know who he is. His personality is non existent since he doesn’t know who he is and is instead just freaking out over things the entire time. And when he’s not freaking out in the various bodies he’s taken control of, he’s too busy solving the mystery of who is going to kill Evelyn. There is no time to develop one’s own personality.
As for the bodies Aiden inhabits, they’re pretty much archetypes. In no particular order, there is the fuckboy, the cop who can solve anything, the elderly English gentleman, and the rich man who can get leverage on anyone; just to name a few of these bodies. Not enough time is spent with these characters, or I guess I should say hosts, for them to have any type of character arc. Like I said, Aiden only spends a day in each of these bodies so it’s not long before he’s sent to his next host. And should he have spent longer than one day in each host, it’s Aiden dictating the speech and movements so it wouldn’t have been a true character arc.
The only other notable characters are two women. One is the titular Evelyn Hardcastle and the other is a woman named Anna who is in the same situation as Aiden. Sadly, not much can be said about either one.
Anna, as a I said, is in the same situation as Aiden. She wakes up each day in a body that is not hers, does not know where she is, doesn’t know anyone, doesn’t know who she is, and has no idea what to do. Unlike Aiden, she knows what her name is but that’s it. She’s a central character in the book, but more time is spent thinking or talking about her than time is spent with her. I don’t believe that readers or Aiden truly know who she is as a person or her true motivations by the end of the book. She’s supposed to have had a large character arc by the end of the story, but the vast majority of it is done before the book even starts. It’s a lot of tell with absolutely none of that arc being shown.
Evelyn is the only other notable character I want to talk about. Much like Anna, more time is spent discussing her than time is spent with her. And like the other characters, not much is known about her or her personality. People have horrible opinions on her, but they don’t truly know her. I think the best thing to say about her is she’s important because she’s central to the plot of the book. She herself is a mystery; which does make perfect sense upon reflection.
I love that I said I can’t really talk much on these characters and then proceeded to talk about the characters for five paragraphs. Guess I really can layout this review in the same way.
There are so many other characters in this novel too. It’s not just the hosts and these two women. There has to be two dozen characters who are either met or referenced throughout the mystery. There’s honestly too many characters to remember at times.
Thankfully, Turton includes a notable character list in the form of an invitation right at the start of the book. Although I found myself having to turn back to the invite more often than I would like.
Now, it sounds like I’m just shitting on all these characters and the amount of them. I promise I’m not! This book is great! The characters are just very cut and dry. This book is not about its characters; it is about its murder mystery. So let’s get into that.
At 11 o’clock each night, Evelyn Hardcastle is slated to die. Each night, she walks to a reflective pool, gun in hand, and shoots herself in the stomach. A cut and dry suicide it may seem. But that’s not the case. Evelyn Hardcastle is being blackmailed and forced to shoot herself. The reason why remains a mystery. A mystery that only Aiden can solve.
Seriously, I haven’t read a mystery that is so tightly woven, so twisty and turny outside of Agatha Christie novels in quite some time. From the beginning Turton has readers trying to figure things out. You are put in Aiden’s shoes and everything is as confusing to you as it is to Aiden. Everything is unknown. Everything is a mystery. From here on out, every thought I had an idea or clue as to who was behind the blackmail, behind the murder, I was proven wrong chapters later. This is a well done, ten-out-of-ten, mystery.
There are two main twists in this mystery. One being right at the end that I shall not get into, and one being the reason that Aiden and Anna are forced to the live the same day over and over. The latter is something I want to touch on.
If you don’t want to be spoiled by what I’m about to say, then now is a good time to hop off this review. Not everything will be spoiled, but some juicy info certainly will be.
Basically, Anna and Aiden are stuck in this time loop because they’re in a sort of jail. How time, aging, and memories exactly work in this jail remains unknown, but nonetheless, these two are in a prison. I’ll leave the reasons why they’re there as a surprise, but I found this twist to be something I’m still on the fence about.
I wasn’t expecting this country manor to be a prison. Props to the author for creating something so unique.
But this idea just doesn’t feel fully explored to me. It is presented two thirds of the way through the book, and feels a tad bit forgotten about in the grand scheme of things. As I said, the focus of this book is its mystery.
While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, there are details that get pushed to the side. The prison plot line is the most notable, but there are other details that get pushed to the side as well. Another example is the lack of memorable introductions to side characters. Too much time was spent jumping back and forth between the character list and the story. Less characters, more mystery!
I don’t think I’d want to change much with this book. I want to yell that it’s perfect the way that it is, but as a reviewer I do have to say no book is without its faults. This is a well written tale that is not disappointing.
If you are a fan of mysteries, you will love this one. Seriously, every mystery fan should have this book on his, her, or their shelf. It is a book that you do not want to miss. The 7½ Death of Evelyn Hardcastle is the perfect way to spend an evening if you’re the type of person who enjoys solving mysteries. Seriously, give this one a read; I can’t recommend it enough.