The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle is a time-travel, body-hopping murder mystery – every bit as complicated as it sounds, all the more for the fact that it has more than one title. It was originally published as The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle in most English-speaking territories, but then renamed The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle for U.S. publication (due to its unfortunate similarity to The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo, coincidentally released around the same time). So, if you’re already confused, you’re not the only one.

The 7 1/2 Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle - Stuart Turton - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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The story starts with our narrator running through a forest, forgetting who he is, and immediately witnessing a murder. All that before coffee? A rough start to the day! It turns out this isn’t the first time it’s happened, either. He’s doomed to repeat this day again and again, each time in the body of a different guest in a crumbling mansion, until he solves a murder. His memories are wiped each time, the clock resets, and he has to put all the pieces together before it happens again. His only ally appears to be ‘Anna’, the woman whose name he was shouting in the forest when his memories disappeared.

All the guests, including the ones our narrator will be embodying, have gathered at Blackheath manor for a morbid party of sorts. Each of them were present at a similar party at the same house nineteen years earlier, where one of the Hardcastle children was murdered. History is going to repeat itself, and our narrator (clue-y guy that he is) determines that the two deaths must be related.

Oh, and just to up the stakes even further, our narrator learns – from a creepy guy in a medieval plague doctor mask who’s following him around – that there are two other people ‘competing’ with him to solve the murder, and only the first to do so will be allowed to leave Blackheath. The remaining failed amateur detectives will have to stay trapped in the cycle forever. And there’s another guy (“the footman”) trying to murder them all before they crack the case, anyway.

So, I have a lot of thoughts. The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle, at its bones, is a great concept, but I think Turton was a bit ambitious in the execution. There’s a LOT going on, a lot of secrets and at least three central mysteries, and most of the time the narrator is just as confused and clueless as the reader. In my view, mysteries only really work when you feed the reader enough information to get a foothold – we need that purchase to be truly invested in the outcome. As it stands, Evelyn seems nice enough and all, but it’s hard to get worked up about who murders her when it’s only one of about a thousand questions with no forthcoming answers.

Here are some of the mysteries I noted down as I was wading through The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle:

  • Plague Doctor = who?
  • Footman = who?
  • Anna = who/why?
  • Evelyn’s mother = where?
  • Evelyn’s murderer = who/why/how?
  • Thomas’s murderer = who/why?
  • The narrator = who/why?
  • The whole dang situation = why?

Another mystery – not explicitly mentioned in the plot, but particularly baffling to me – is why are none of the ‘hosts’ women? All the guests that our narrator embodies are men. Was Turton simply afraid of having to describe the lived experience of having breasts, on top of everything else going on in his book? (That said, given how unkindly he described the only fat character in the novel, perhaps it’s a blessing he didn’t try his hand at a different gender.)

In sum, The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle is a multi-player Black Mirror-esque game of Cluedo, with time travel and body swapping and a ticking clock. The Times called it “an astonishingly polished debut”, but conceded that “the plot of this complex, fascinating and bewildering murder-mystery is impossible to summarise” – two points that seem at odds, to me. Turton might have been better off waiting until he’d honed his craft with simpler novels before attempting something so tricky – either that, or simplifying the plot, cutting out the murderous footman and a few other barely-necessary foils, to make it easier for the reader to appreciate his bold concept.

I did think, while reading it, that The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle would work better on screen, where you get the visual cues of faces and settings and more time to tease out the complicated knots in this plot. Netflix did acquire the rights and begin production on a seven-part series back in 2020, but apparently they announced last year that they’re scrapping the project – too bad. I hold out hope that someone else will pick it up, because The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle as a book has been translated into 28 languages and sold over a million copies, so surely the audience is here for it.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle:

  • “Its as if the author wrote the entire book in chronological order and then threw the manuscript into the air and the editor picked them up in random order and published it in that random order.” – Disappointed Viewer
  • “Terrible. Unbelievable characters doing pointless, ridiculous things.” – Kkat
  • “If I had a “do-over” of my day, it would be to not have acquired and read this book in the first place.” – rotroha
  • “The only mystery about this book was why I was reading it.” – R.H.L.M. Ramsay