The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Across the Anglophone world at this moment, viewers sit slumped in their chairs between the second and third seasons of The Crown, longing for some short parade of toffs to fill the interval. Stuart Turton's debut novel looks like just the thing at first. But it's not your average English mansion murder mystery. It clothes a Groundhog Day premise in Gosford Park togs, complete with unacknowledged children, unlamented dead parents, a houseful of guests. And there is a bit of Inception thrown in.
Sebastian Bell wakes up in a forest to a sense of undefined terror. He is searching for a woman called Anna. He sees a woman running, a man pursuing her. He hears a scream and then a gunshot, and thinks he knows what to do. Over the next few hours, Bell pieces together his own identity, tries to persuade his hosts to find and rescue Anna and then realises he is not Bell at all.
Day after day, the man who inhabits Bell's body at the outset travels from one body to another, meeting Anna at intervals, and painfully building up a cogent sequence of events from violent encounters and the fragmentary revelations that arise from them.
The mystery behind it all seems to be the killing of a 10-year-old boy nearly two decades ago. Everyone who was there on that day has been gathered at the Blackheath estate again for an unknown purpose. Can they all be nudged just so by those occupying their heads and prevent another death-that of the victim's sister, Evelyn Hardcastle?
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is not an Anglophile romp for an indolent reader. The puzzle is the thing. It takes a clever storyteller to spin these threads and fling them into the air, and an attentive reader to seize them.
The reviewer is a writer