Quarantine got you feeling like you’re trapped in the movie Groundhog Day? Then today’s book is just what you need. Or maybe not…
I don’t know about you, but since our quarantine went into effect (15 weeks ago, but who’s counting?), my days have started to run together. Our Mother’s Day cards were late because I mailed them on Friday, believing it was still Wednesday. I wish I was kidding.
Since we already homeschooled, and because we aren’t exactly social butterflies during normal times, I didn’t expect life to change that much for us. In fact, I was excited about being told to stay home. It’s an introvert’s dream after all—cancel all the things. I was also convinced I was going to get So. Much. Done.
The reality of quarantine life has been a little different than I expected.
Sure, for the first few weeks it was novel. Home-cooked meals together every night! At the table, even! Playing board games, taking walks, learning to paint with watercolors, eating more Oreos in a matter of weeks than I have for the past five years combined . . . But after a few weeks (months? I’m not even sure anymore), the novelty wore off, and we began to lose all sense of reality.
Would you like to hazard a guess what tonight’s home-cooked meal will be? Grilled cheese sandwiches. Or possibly frozen pizza. Whichever it is, it will likely be eaten in the living room while we watch yet another Jurassic Park movie. The ballerina has just discovered them and is obsessed. I had no idea there so many of them. These people really don’t learn, do they?
Sorry if I’m rambling, but I haven’t had much human contact outside this house lately, and I’m afraid it may be affecting my already questionable social skills.
All this is to say that if you are anything like me, feeling as if you’re trapped in the John Carpenter version of Groundhog Day, then you’ll feel right at home in Stuart Turton’s fictional world, and I’m honestly not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
In The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (for some reason called The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle outside the U.S.), the reader is dropped right into the action when the main character wakes to find himself lost in the woods and unsure of where he is or even who he is. This book hits the ground running and doesn’t let up—I was utterly confused for the first few chapters and yet I couldn’t put it down.
The premise is soon made clear—the main character, who we eventually find out is named Aiden Bishop, is trapped in a country house party at the ominously named Blackheath Manor and will be forced to live the same day over and over until he unmasks the murderer of Evelyn Hardcastle, the daughter of his hosts. That’s not a spoiler, by the way, it’s right there in the title. Evelyn Hardcastle is going to die. But at whose hand?
There are rules, however. Each day Aiden will find himself inhabiting the body of a different guest, some of whom are more helpful to him than others, and there is a ticking clock. If he doesn’t solve the murder soon enough, he could be trapped at Blackheath forever. Worse, it seems that he isn’t the only one playing this game, and his opponents will stop at nothing to win. A mysterious man in a beaked plague doctor mask, a sinister footman, and an ephemeral woman named Anna are only a few of the complications he will contend with as the hours slip away.
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is an incredibly unique debut novel and therefore hard to categorize. It isn’t cozy, exactly. But it isn’t not cozy, either. Imagine if an Agatha Christie novel, Groundhog Day, and the 80s TV show Quantum Leap had a baby. It would be this novel. There is a definite country house mystery flavor to the story, complete with menacing atmosphere, crumbling manor, masked ball, dark forest, unsolved murder from the past, and secretive characters. But there is also a slightly disorienting feeling of being in both the past and the future simultaneously.
At 482 pages, this isn’t a quick read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, I plan to go back and reread it now that I know the ending. There are quite a few characters and it took me a while to get them straight in my mind. Add in the time loop, and I found myself flipping back to check facts pretty often. Another reviewer mentioned that she actually took notes as she read—I wish I’d thought of that!
As I read through a second time, there is one particular fact I want to recheck, because during my first read-through, I thought I spotted a clue, but now I think maybe it was just an overlooked mistake.
Oh, and you know I love a good cover, so I can’t go without mentioning this one. Is it gorgeous or what? That Art Deco design and bold color combination caught my eye immediately.
Stuart Turton’s next book, The Devil and the Dark Water, is due out in October. It sounds as if it will be just as intriguing as his first one, and it’s definitely going on my TBR list.
Have you read The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle yet? If not, you
should! And while you’re reading, keep an eye out for gloves—or is it
socks?—drying over the fire. Was it a clue or just an overlooked mistake?