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“Agatha Christie meets Downton Abbey with a splash of red wine and Twin Peaks. Dark and twisty, lush and riddled with gorgeous prose, part of me will always be trapped in Blackheath.” – Delilah S. Dawson, New York Times bestselling author
“A kaleidoscopic mystery that brilliantly bends the limits of the genre and the mind of the reader. The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is urgent, inventive, creepy and, above all, a blast to read!” – Matthew Sullivan, author of Midnight at the Bright Ideas BookstoreAmazon
This is my book review for The 7.5 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
I intend to use the ***ASPECT method for my discussion and will not spoil the ending.
First off. Don’t read the blurb on the back of the book. I broke with my normal format for this review and didn’t put it up there for a reason.
Here is my reason: if you read the blurb, you know the twist. If you know the twist, the book is far less interesting. That being said… I don’t spoil endings in my reviews, so let’s get into it.
Fancy England of yore. Not that long ago really… think Downton Abbey more than say, King Henry. The fancy England of rich people having house parties that last for several days culminating in a ball (and MURDER) with a huge cast of characters including aristocrats, other fancy people, socialites, and of course, servants. There is a drawing-room, there is a hunt, there are a lot of men drinking drinks and servants carrying trays hither and yon. It is a bit stuffy and the house has fallen into a slight state of disrepair so there are plenty of cupboards to hide in, spiderwebs to run into, and peeling wallpaper and threadbare carpet to fixate upon as you recover from whatever violence has just happened to your person.
Yes, there is a fair amount of violence.
Without giving anything away, I will say that Turton does a fine job of writing this novel. Despite its setting and tone, the writing is clear and precise. There isn’t much more to say about it. I do, however, have a lot to say about….
Plot / Pacing
Ok, again, not giving much away but you can tell by the title that there is death, maybe multiple deaths, and the beginning chapters do a fine job of setting up an “uncomfortable” mystery. (Not a cozy mystery! This is more Holmes than Marple.) There is even an invitation before the story starts that gives us an almost full cast of characters. (servants are obviously not listed). We sort of know what we are getting ourselves into… but then the carpet is thoroughly pulled out from under us at chapter 9 and everything changes. This is very very cool if you, like me, hadn’t been spoiled by the back of the book.
In fact… a quick tangent. Here is a bit of my “real life” when I hit that point:
My actual Facebook post:
The book I’m reading just took a huge turn and it’s awesome.
At chapter 9!!!
Of course, had I read the back of the book I would have been “spoiled” by this twist.
Which is why I’m glad I often “read blind” aka don’t read the back of the book before starting. (I have read the back or a blurb at some point, that’s why it’s here. But I LOVE grabbing a book from my TBR pile that I don’t actually know/remember anything about and just going for it.)
Well done Past Me!”
–Me, Early July 2021
(Reading “blind” is one of the best things about having a huge TBR pile, btw… you know that everything in there has been vetted at some point, but you still get to just read and discover along the way. I highly recommend this method!)
Ahem, back to poor Evelyn and her many deaths:
At chapter 9, like I said, we hit a twist. The book goes from a historical mystery to a speculative fiction mystery and for the next 30 chapters, I was super into it. Do the math, we are now at chapter 39. At chapter 39, I was pretty much ready for this mystery to be wrapped up.
But no. There are 60 chapters in this book and the mystery just keeps going and going and going…. For my money, the main pitfall of this book is the pace and the “this author has painted himself into a corner and is going to spend an insane amount of time painting himself out of it” issue. More on this in a second
There are a lot of them. Truckloads. Keeping them straight and remembering how they were connected to each other, to our main character, and where they might have been during or near the time of the murder, especially considering the speculative fiction schtick that I won’t spoil for you, required an excessive bit of mental fortitude.
Imagine a line on a graph that starts off high and then just lowers, lowers, lowers, with maybe a tiny spike toward the end (nowhere near where it started but still worth noticing), and then plummeting below the X-axis at the very end. Le sigh. Sorry Present Day Me. That Facebook post was the highlight of this book.
But why? Why did it drop off so much at the end? The ending itself wasn’t… awful and I am sure that if you are the sort that digs overly complex mysteries, you might really vibe on the many, many lawyers that had to be peeled away. However, even the most ardent mystery reader might find themselves becoming frustrated with this book.
It was just too long. Twists started to lose their luster, the red herrings started to all blur together, the introduction of new characters new mysteries, new riddles to solve started to be overwhelming… I was exhausted. Worse, I started to not trust the author to get me to a satisfying conclusion. And once you lose faith, it is really hard to regain it.
It felt like a TV show that was originally set to be a 12 episode limited run but the first few episodes were so popular and generated so much buzz with how original they were that the studio asked them to stretch it into a 22 episode arc so the writers had to add in a few side plots, new characters, a different big bad, and a few “mystery of the week” episodes to pad us to the end… but by the end, everyone watching knew that the main actors had signed on to the next Marvel movie and there defiantly wouldn’t be a second season plus the plot was so complex that none of our later-adopter friends could even give it a chance and we all ended up sleepily watching the series finale three weeks after it aired because SNL was on a break and the remote had been left just out of reach.
Why THIS book?
I’m a bit of a goldfish in terms of my memory. I knew I had been hearing about a book that was “good” and the title was “The 7 Somethings of Evelyn Something” and it was speculative fiction or it was queer or it was a mystery or it was feminist… Or all of those things? Or none? Then I came across some blurb in some article that talked about how one of them had to change its name because it kept getting confused with the other… thus the 7.5 vs 7… and I was like… Well, that’s weird and also interesting because does that mean that there are only 7 whatever and the .5 is a tease, or is the .5 actually really important but it was supposed to be a surprise because normal readers would only be expecting the 7 from the title***… and also, what are the things? Thanks to a quick google search I found that there is The 7 .5 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and there is The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I already had one of them in my TBR pile (thank you Past Me) and so I got ahold of the other (thank you BFF) and then I posted a photo on my social media asking “Which one should I read?” Everyone voted for the Husband one, so, naturally, I decided to read the Death one first. (Guess what book is getting reviewed next week!)
Would I recommend it:
Oy. Find your category:
LOVE Overly Complex Mysteries, Have a fair amount of time to devote to this book. Have not been spoiled (or have but don’t care because the mystery part is what is selling you): Read it!
Not wild about overly complex mysteries, Time is limited, Been spoiled, and think it is just an ok premise: Skip it!
Not wild about overly complex mysteries, Time is limited, Not been spoiled, Need a book that ends at the same level that it starts with: Run!
Enjoy some mysteries, Have yet to be spoiled, Like it when authors swing for the fences, don’t care if the ending isn’t great because the premise is different and new: Lower your expectations and then Read it!
I know that is a long-winded and sort of elaborate way of getting to my recommendation, but then again, so was the topic at hand.
I am glad that I read it, but I do wish it had been cut down by 20 chapters and the speculative fiction aspects could have been more useful rather than just plot contrivances that seemed pretty much there just to muddle the mystery plot.
*** I still have no idea. I honestly lost count of the deaths but have neither the mental wherewithal to reread nor the interest to google it.
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This? Why did I read *This* book?