I wanted to love this book. I was ready to love it. I just ended up liking it.
“At a gala party thrown by her parents, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed–again. She’s been murdered hundreds of times, and each day, Aiden Bishop is too late to save her. Doomed to repeat the same day over and over, Aiden’s only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend–but nothing and no one are quite what they seem.Deeply atmospheric and ingeniously plotted, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a highly original debut that will appeal to fans of Kate Atkinson and Agatha Christie.”
The premise was fresh and original, and murder mystery is one of my favourite genres, I was promised a fiendishly complicated plot of twists and turns whose out of order narrative was sure to make it hard for me to follow along. Instead I got an interesting plot-device I felt wasn’t used to its full potential, a plot that thought itself much cleverer than it was, and a nondescript protagonist whose personality and inner workings I couldn’t put in words to earn my supper. His motivation ends up being explained to us by a character who I assume is supposed to be mysterious and compelling but instead just feels like a manifestation of the author leading us along by the hand through the story, much like he does for the protagonist.
In short I was promised Memento, and got Clue.
Luckily for this book, I don’t hate Clue, or my rating of 3 stars would be much lower. It was amusing to follow along and piece together the main character’s day split in eight, or eight days split in one — however you want to look at it. The pacing was fast and kept the energy high, except for a bit of sagging in the middle. The clues as to what was going on were relevant, and with a few exceptions, didn’t fall on the main character’s lap due to a well-timed plot contrivance. There was one character, as I mentioned before, who I felt was one huge plot-contrivance, but fortunately the protagonist does manage to find some things on his own, or with the help of secondary characters — who I have mixed opinions of. And isn’t that the theme of this whole review?
The body-hoping, for lack of a better term, was well-developed and I liked the aspect of each host having his own personality that was at times at odds with the main character’s and even antagonistic to his ambitions. Where I felt like it didn’t live up to the promise was in the lack of a female host, as that would add to the complexities of inhabiting another’s body, and in my opinion, add something to the protagonist’s character development that was wholly necessary. As the novelty wore off, however, I found myself less and less interested in that aspect of the book, which is a shame since it was one of the things that made me pick it up in the first place.
Now as to the mystery of who murdered the titular Evelyn Hardcastle. It was predictable not in the sense that I knew who did it, or at least I didn’t from the start, but that I felt the rug pull coming a mile away, I didn’t know exactly what rug was going to be pulled, or in what manner, but it was pretty obvious that not all was what it seemed. In that way the reveal was a bit anti-climatic for me, and there were two other plot-twists that I was annoyingly aware of and could predict from the moment they were introduced. I’m more annoyed about one of them than the other, as I believe the author perhaps didn’t intend for it to be a plot-twist in itself just a lead in to the climax. Maybe. Hopefully.
Concerning the secondary characters, they weren’t all that memorable, I have trouble recalling most names, with the exception of Anna, who while central to the plot, was completely one-dimensional. Her defining personality trait was “be helpful to Aiden”. When the events that brought both Aiden and Anna (minor nitpick: it also annoyed me that their names started with the same letter) to the “party”, I was in total disbelief of who Anna was previous to the start of the book, but not in a good way, as I’m sure the author intended it to be, but in a way that stretched the limits of my suspension of disbelief – as nothing in her previous actions offered even the slightest clue. And no Aiden, she off-offhandedly suggesting that you kill Evelyn yourselves to solve her murder, once, doesn’t count.
I have nothing to say for the villain other than his identity has to do with the plot-twist that annoyed me. I know a red herring when I see one. And when a murder mystery tells me to look one way, I’m well aware I should look the other, except usually in a better book than this, there are various other directions to look at, instead of just one.
In conclusion, writing this review has made me realise that my 3 star rating can be completely credited to the fact that I did want to keep reading, and find out what happened in the end, I wasn’t all that excited about said ending but it is what it is. It kept me engaged while I was reading, even with all the issues I had with it, and I at no point considered not finishing it, a sure sign that a book at least fulfils its basic promise of entertaining me. This book managed that. Sometimes it entertained me for the wrong reasons. But so do the news, and I keep watching them.
Rating: 3 stars
Author: Stuart Turton
Publisher: Raven Books