The marketing tactic that will convince me without fail to try something out is to draw a comparison to Agatha Christie. I am a sucker for that. That’s why I was so excited for Knives Out, which marketed itself as a mix of Agatha Christie mysteries and the movie Clue, and it can get out of here with that nonsense—but that’s not what we’re here for today. (If you do want a movie review on Knives Out, let me know in comments. Just know for now that I don’t recommend the movie.) What I do recommend and why we’re here today is The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton! This novel won the 2018 Costa Book Awards and the newly founded Gallant Reads Award (which I just made up this very moment) because this is my very first perfect 10/10 rating! Whoo, congratulations!
I’m very glad I grabbed a copy because this book is incredibly intricate and complex with layers on layers on layers, so I’m definitely going to read it a couple of times, but the best part is that despite all its complexities and plethora of moving parts, everything comes together beautifully by the end, which is something that rarely happens. What are you even doing? Click the picture below for the affiliate link, grab yourself a copy, and make me my twenty-five cents or whatever minuscule portion Amazon spares me.
The book centers on a man named Aiden Bishop who is spiritually transported into the bodies of eight different men so he can relive the same day eight different times from their unique perspectives with their unique skillsets. He must solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle in order to escape this loop. Sounds like Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day meets Clue, right? You don’t get the humor of the two movies, but you get all the intrigue and excitement. Right off the bat, my main criticism is with the setup of this world. It was not what I expected and I felt that, although not contrived, the premise felt somewhat forced. I could feel the presence of the Creator (aka the Author) pulling the strings behind the scenes, which made it a little hard for me to immerse myself in the story for about half of it, and it remained in the back of my mind for the rest of it like a little nag. Although Stuart Turton does not excel in the world building in my opinion, his strengths lie so completely in the characterizations, character development, conflict (internal and external), plot, and pacing of it all that the pros far outweigh the cons, leading to the perfect score. What really did it for me was the last quarter or so of the novel, which you may think is quite late, but it more than makes up for any weaknesses I found earlier on. Also, the earlier parts were still consistently good throughout.
Another slight thing to note is that the read was a bit slow for me. I wasn’t itching to read the book every minute, let alone everyday, because it was not written for a lazy reader. I knew I would have to focus, and as a reader who tends to be more speedy and entertainment-focused, I had to really take the time with this tome—and this is a tome at almost 500 dense pages. The fairly short chapters help move you along, but this book took me about a month (I do read a non-fiction book side-by-side). Do what I did and let yourself take the time to enjoy this read. The story doesn’t drag, but you don’t have to rush it, either.
This book is so, so good. It is intelligent. It is unpredictable. It trusts in you as the reader to keep up and to understand the reveals. It takes you into the minds of very different types of people. Another minor disappointment is the mind of the big antagonist near the end. I did not find that person particularly developed, but sadly, there is still some realism behind that choice. I really liked how Turton looked at all of the characters as human beings with unique natures, strengths, and weaknesses. As for the plot twists, a requirement of the mystery genre, I thought I would expect some of them, but whenever I thought that I got it right, Turton would get into his pickup truck and run me over with it a couple of times. There was twist after twist, twists within twists, twists undoing twists, and it was the best damn rollercoaster ride of a book ever.
On top of all that, Turton has a certain artistry with and mastery of words. There were a few lines that really stuck out to me because they were so beautiful. When I reread it, I’m going to collect those lines and update this review, but a few that I found online were:
His hatred is viscous, it has texture. I could wring it out of the air and bottle it.
Thankfully, the leaves and twigs are so demoralized by the earlier rain they don’t have the heart to cry out beneath my feet.
…Derby’s an entirely different torment—a restless, malevolent imp scurrying between tragedies of his own devising.
You won’t see the ending coming; Turton reveals just enough to keep you guessing on your toes but never able to fully stand on your two feet with confidence. I’m left a little confused about the world and the consequences of the story, but I don’t mind how the book leaves some things open to your interpretation. I highly recommend you read The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Grab yourself a copy and let me know what you think below!
(I had minor quibbles that could have made it a 9/10, but for the extra oomph of the novel, it deserved a bump up to a perfect 10.)
P.S. If they ever make a TV series about this (a movie can’t handle it), I nominate James McAvoy to play Daniel Coleridge! That’s who I kept thinking of. Daniel’s a complex character and McAvoy would play him perfectly in my opinion. If you already read this book (or after you read it), let me know who you would cast as the characters down below!