The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – a review

As intended, my reading in 2019 is leaning towards mysteries and crime – although there will be a few other genres to break the pattern a little. This mystery read is one of the stranger entries, but still highly enjoyable.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

by

Stuart Turton (Goodreads Author)

The Rules of Blackheath

Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m. 

There are eight days, and eight witnesses for you to inhabit. 

We will only let you escape once you tell us the name of the killer. 

Understood? Then let’s begin…


Evelyn Hardcastle will die. Every day until Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. And some of his hosts are more helpful than others…

The most inventive debut of the year twists together a mystery of such unexpected creativity it will leave readers guessing until the very last page.

            Review 4.7 stars

This was a ‘must buy’ from the blurb and from reviewers I follow – and I was not disappointed to bump this ahead of other books.

Lost in a forest and unsure who he is, not recognising his body or exactly what’s going on, is where the protagonist and the reader find themselves. An opening that enticed me in as I discovered where ‘I’ was and why – well, not exactly. At first, we meet the first host body for the first-person protagonist that needs to identify the killer of Evelyn Hardcastle to break a cycle that he has become trapped in.

This is Groundhog Day meets Cluedo with Agatha Christie pulling the strings of a cast that echoes the Golden Age of Mystery. Except this world feels darker with death not limited to one-time only. Although the mystery elements are classic and the basic plot may seem easily solved by some readers, it is not the mystery that makes this novel, but the intricacies caused by a repeating day with the hosts and other players evolving with the unravelling of the secrets.  

This is the mysterious world that is Blackheath, a crumbling country house with characters hiding as many secrets as the plot. Everyone seems to be guilty of something or hiding their past. The faded grandeur was evocatively described in a language smeared with decay and dread. A mystery convention twisted by the theme. This was a house of layers that Aiden had to uncover with his host bodies.

Host bodies that added their own idiosyncrasies to the investigation. He must work with their limitations such as ageing bodies or their own agendas. This is no simple body-hopping as he must pull their minds to his task – or in some cases use their own intelligence. And as he hops there are dangers from shadowy antagonists to losing his mind to his host’s.

Each character is distinct especially the hosts, whom the reader gets to experience from their perspective and Aiden’s – in a clever way…without spoiling the gameplay. Full marks to the author for painting such amazing portraits and evolving their behaviour as the day repeats. Some seem to be tortured by their own actions – their consciences perhaps.

I’m trying to avoid spoilers so I’m sounding as devious as the author. There are clever twists to catch out everyone – even readers, even if some are ahead of the game. But I was surprised although I had my suspects. With a sprinkling of clues – and red herrings – to mystify hosts and readers, I enjoyed the ingenious plotting that must have taken a wall of sticky notes. The author’s notes clarify the process and added to my admiration.

My only minor quibbles were ‘shooting’ described as ‘hunting’ – I come from a shooting-hunting country house background – and a few unnecessary dialogue tags where the speaker was obvious.

The ending was unexpectedly artful with even ‘the puppet master’ stunned. After reading this novel, I’d recommend this to mystery readers looking for something different from the norm and open to other genre elements sneaking in. Or are you afraid of getting trapped re-reading this tome?

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – five stars

The Secret of Lakeham Abbey – a review

Yesterday, I posted “What earns Stars?” about my dilemma over review stars, and mentioned the book that rates more than five. Well this is the one that I had in mind, so read on.

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The Secret of Lakeham Abbey

by Sally Quilford (Goodreads Author)

1948

When Percy Sullivan’s family take over Lakeham Abbey for the summer, it was a chance to get away from battered post-war London and be cossetted by the capable and pretty housekeeper, Anne Pargeter.

They soon learn that the Abbey conceals a dark secret; one that someone was willing to kill to hide. When Anne is convicted of murder and sentenced to execution, Percy is determined to do all he can to save his friend from the gallows.

He encourages everyone to tell their side of the story. This leads to some startling revelations, including a shocking secret that Percy’s mother tried to hide from him.

 

The blurb hooked me on the book’s launch day, and I immediately read the opening pages online. Then I had to read more. This was a beautifully crafted mystery in the tradition of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, and I found it hard to put down. Despite life’s interruptions, I finished it in just over a day – close to my record.

From the first sentence, I loved the voices of the characters, especially Percy Sullivan’s. He’s a teenager driven by his desire to prove his friend Anne Pargeter, and his encouragement of everyone to tell their side of the story is genius. Genius on his part, and on the author’s.

All of them have great voices that reveal so much about them and their part in the clever plot. Everyone has something to hide, however insignificant – but then don’t we all. For the sleuths like Percy, the art is reading between the lies and half-truths to unravel the hidden truths. True to the Golden Age detectives, Percy and the police gather everyone for a neatly located revelation that surprises all.

Although secrets and murder are the driving force, and Percy’s focus in on solving the mystery, there is romance between various characters – but I won’t say whom. In fact, there is plenty of emotional interactions between characters, all well-painted.

This was not only an excellent read, and a ‘read-again’ book, but it also made me work back through the novel looking for the crafty techniques that Sally Quillford used. “The Secret of Lakeham Abbey” reminded me of a clever Agatha Christie mystery.

 

As a writer, this novel was a lesson in how to craft a mystery, which was why I studied all the scenes that gave clues to the murder. Learning how to use red herrings, deceit, and well-timed distractions, is something that I still have to take on board. Thanks Sally Quillford for helping show me some of the how. And that’s why I wish I could give “The Secret of Lakeham Abbey” six stars.