article written by Sophie Poirier
Summer is the only time of the year I get to read the books I choose. During the school year, I don’t have any time to read anything outside of my assigned readings for class. So after exams, I was excited to dive into the pile of unread books I’ve been collecting for a while. The first novel I chose to read this summer has easily become one of my favourite works thus far.
Stuart Turton brilliantly incorporates so many different plot elements and ideas into a unique and exciting debut novel titled The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. With time loops, body swaps, and a murder mystery, the intricate storyline managed to capture my attention from the very beginning and continued to do so until the end.
Guests are invited to Blackheath, a large and secluded 1920s style estate in the woods, for a masquerade party celebrating the return of the Hardcastles’ only daughter, Evelyn. These are the same guests who attended a similar party at Blackheath years earlier, where the Hardcastles’ young son had been murdered.
The masquerade party will end in a similar way. At the end of the night, Evelyn Hardcastle dies. The main character, Aidan Bishop, has to repeat the day until he solves her murder, but each day, he wakes up in the body of a different houseguest. This concept initially drew me into the story, but Turton’s storytelling is what made me fall in love with the novel. The novel begins brilliantly: A man, later to be revealed as Aidan Bishop, awakens alone in the woods with no recollection of his identity or his whereabouts. The main character having no prior memory allows us, as readers, to learn along with the character as he tries to find answers. This is all orchestrated by some stranger in a plague doctor costume, who tells him, “Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder, and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.”
The personalities of the hosts become important, and it’s probably my favourite plot element of the novel. Aidan inherits the personality traits of his hosts, and must learn to use each hosts’ individual skills to aid in his investigation while also struggling with their flaws. Each host Aidan inhabits is drastically different from the one before. Lord Cecil Ravencourt, for example, is an intelligent man, but Ravencourt’s bad health and heavy body weight causes problems for Aidan as he tries to move around the estate. With a violent and bad-tempered host like Derby, Aidan realizes his “hosts can fight back.” By the end, it becomes complicated for Aidan to differentiate his hosts’ personalities from his own, especially since he knows very little about himself which makes for an interesting character development.
Working with time travel elements can be tricky, but I think Turton’s novel was well-planned in this aspect. As a reader, it’s also interesting to read about the day from a different perspective while learning so much more each time. Aidan has to navigate around his other selves and experience things in the wrong order, which undoubtedly causes confusion, for both the characters and for the readers. By the end, however, every detail makes sense. These time travel elements, while it does become a bit complicated at times, allow the mystery to intensify.
At the end of the Canadian edition of the novel, the reader gets an insight into the mind of the author as he answers some questions. Turton manages to express the difficulty of creating such a complicated story. He says, “Truthfully, having the idea was the easy part, keeping track of all the moving parts was the difficulty.” As a writer, I can relate, and I think Turton created an elaborately webbed plotline without making it ridiculous or uninteresting.I became immersed in the story quite easily, and I highly recommend adding The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle to your summer reading list. I look forward to rereading the novel, but for now, I will go through my pile of unread books and choose another one that will hopefully make my favourites list.