Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Somebody's going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won't appear to be a murder so the murderer won't be caught. Rectify that injustice and I'll show you the way out.
~The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (2018) by Stuart Turton

That quote essentially sums up the plot of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Evelyn Hardcastle has come home to Blackheath after being sent to Paris for schooling. Nineteen years ago her younger brother Thomas was murdered. The family abandoned their home, leaving the memories behind, until Lady Helen Hardcastle decides to throw a party in Evelyn's honor on the anniversary of Thomas's death. She invites all the same guests who were at the house nineteen years ago. And plans to announce her daughter's engagement to Lord Cecil Ravencourt at a gala ball. But all her plans are ruined when Evelyn dies of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound in full view of the guests.

That's the overall set-up. But then there's another thread to the story. Among the guests are some interlopers--our narrator, Aiden Bishop finds himself inhabiting the body of various members of the guest list. Eight guests in all--and he hops from body to body (through what mysterious means, we're never told) and back again over a period of eight "days." He slowly learns that he has been tasked with the unraveling of the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle--no matter how much it looks like suicide. A mysterious figure, named the Plague Doctor for the mask he wears, instructs him that if he solves the murder by 11 pm of the night of Evelyn's death, then he will be free to leave. Otherwise, once the eight days (actually the same day, spent repeatedly as different guests) are over, his memory will be wiped and he'll have to start again.

Oh...and there's another complication. He has two rivals who are also trying to solve the murder and earn their escape. He has the advantage over them--he has eight "hosts" to help him and can carry memories from each host's day with him. The rivals live the day as themselves and if the story gets reset, they lose what they've learned. Aiden is allowed to see the events from several different viewpoints to gather clues from all directions. He finds himself drawn to Anna, one of his rivals, and vows to save both her and himself even though the Plague Doctor tells him that only one of the three can escape. He will have to fight his way through lies and betrayals if he's going to make good his promise to Anna. He will also have to avoid being killed (in all his different bodies) by another mysterious figure known as the Footman.

This is an intricate book--not only intricately plotted at its most basic level, the storyline (which it has to be in order to follow so many viewpoints that switch not just once per host but multiple times) but there are also many layers to that plot. We have the basic murder mystery to solve. We have the backstory for the three rivals and trying to figure out who the Plague Doctor and the Footman are. There are intricate themes being played out--themes of revenge and redemption and loyalty and betrayal. There is an examination of just how possible is it for the most reprehensible people to really change

Do you know how you can tell if a monster's fit to walk the world again, Mr. Bishop? If they're truly redeemed and not just telling you what you want to hear?

Aiden Bishop learns. And while he inhabits the various bodies--belonging to people who are, for the most part, vile in various ways--he is able to influence them and help them be, if only temporarily, better people than they were. And each of these hosts also manage to leave their mark on him--assisting him in his efforts to find the truth and find a way out for both Anna and himself.

This was an exhilarating roller coaster ride through the fun house with a side trip through the house of horrors--complete with mazes and mirrors and scary things jumping out at you in the dark. I thoroughly enjoyed trying to piece together the murder mystery plot while puzzling over why the three were being held there. It was difficult to capture all the pieces as they flew by, but I caught enough to have a good time trying. One small thing that I would like to know is how the trick of making Aiden pop into the various bodies was done--was it some kind of Star Trek holodeck-type program? ★★ and 1/2.

Calendar of Crime: February (Pub date)
Mystery Bingo: Card #2-Clues & Cliches: Muddy/wet clothing; Red Herrings: maid/butler/chauffeur
Deaths = 11 (five stabbed; three shot; two poisoned; one drowned)

[First Line] I forget everything between footsteps.

We are never more ourselves than we think people aren't watching, don't you realise that? It doesn't matter if Stanwin's alive tomorrow, you murdered him today. You murdered a man in cold blood, and that will blot your soul for the rest of your life. I don't know why we're here, Daniel, or why this is happening to us, but we should be proving that it's and injustice, not making ourselves worthy of it. (Aiden Bishop; p. 323)

I've always known more than them. I knew more than you. Knowledge was never my problem. Ignorance is the condition I struggle with. (The Plague Doctor; p. 452)

We've both hurt each other, Anna, and we've both paid for it. I'm never going to betray you again, I promise. You can trust me. You already have trusted me, you just can't remember it. (Aiden Bishop; p. 464)

The Plague Doctor claimed Blackheath was meant to rehabilitate us, but bars can't build better men and misery can only break what goodness remains. This place pinches out the hope in people, and without that hope, what use is love or compassion or kindness? (p. 480) feels like a good day, and Blackheath hasn't seen one of those for a very long time. I think I'll enjoy it for a while and worry about the cost tomorrow. It will come soon enough, it always does. (The Plague Doctor; p. 503)

[Last Line] I just have to keep walking until I get there.


J F Norris said...

I thought the whole thing was going to turn out to be a video game. It has a definite manufactured world feel to it. Reminded me a lot of Existenz, a movie directed by David Cronenberg. I liked the Groundhog Day meets And Then There Were None genre blending plot -- to a point. I have to admit the book is a marvel of whiz bang plotting what with all the time travelling, intersections and "reruns". I give him my full admiration for what must've been a headache inducing process of construction. In the end, however, I think the book is about punishment and sadism and bleakly pessimistic. Look at that quote you pulled out by the Plague Doctor on p. 480. Sums up the "message" perfectly. The final chapters suggest to me that the writer is a unrepentant cynic and probably a nihilist. Hated the ending and wound up loathing the book because of it.

Bev Hankins said...

The quote on p. 480 is actually Aiden Bishop (our narrator)speaking and he's the one who (despite going through all that bleakness and punishment) comes through and escapes. He's not bleak and pessimistic. He's looking forward to the changes ahead for both Anna and himself. And the Plague Doctor? He's speaking on p. 503--someone has escaped Blackheath and "today feels like a good day."

I still think the book is about redemption and the power of believing in and trusting people--Bishop goes in wanting to destroy the woman who destroyed his sister but he winds up saving her and they both are changed at the end of the book.

Bev Hankins said...

John: I managed to delete your latest comment, but fortunately I get an emailed version of it so I'm posting it here.

"I can't get over the idea that this is the antithesis of a detective novel. Despite what Turton himself has said in multiple interviews it is NOT a homage to Agatha Christie. Instead of being rewarded for what he learns Aidan is continually punished when the people are murdered, often in the body he is inhabiting. Overall, I just didn't see anything positive about this at all. I clearly must be missing something in my reading or misinterpreted the final chapters. I didn't pick up on any of what you mention above. If I had the book (dumped it at Half Price Books) I'd go back and re-read those pages to see if I agree with you. Maybe some day if I find it at the library I'll pore over the pages.

Back in the summer I read somewhere that this is supposed to be a TV miniseries produced by some UK outfit. But I went to check up on it at and there's nothing to be found."

This just proves that two people can read the same book and have two entirely different experiences. I can definitely see where you're coming from on the pessimism and sadism issues. I just think Aiden overcomes those things in the end.

Emily Harris said...

I'm excited to read this book for the Cloak and Dagger challenge, too! It sounds amazing. Great review!