The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Written by Stuart Turton

Review written by Stephen Thornley

An avid reader, Stephen's knowledge of Crime Fiction is fairly extensive, with The Golden Age is his greatest interest.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Raven Books
RRP: £14.99
Released: February 8 2018

This is a book that commands your attention from the very first page and doesn't let up until the last page. The writing is stylish and the original plot idea is masterly played for all its worth creating an absorbing, entertaining and supernatural tale. It has the feel of the 1920s with the setting and principal characters which build the atmosphere of wealth and privilege going hand in hand with barbarity and cruelty.

It begins with a man waking to find himself soaking wet and alone in a damp cold forest, he has no recollection all he can think of is calling out the name “Anna” but doesn't know why. In the next few minutes he sees a woman running, is it Anna, being chased by a man who shoots her? He is lost in the forest doesn't know who he is, how he got there, nor can he identify either the woman or man he's seen.

With a little help the man finds his way to a secluded manor, Blackheath House, set within the forest. He is immediately recognised there as a house guest, his name apparently is Dr Sebastien Bell but this revelation doesn't strike any chord in his memory and when shown his room nothing within it brings back as much as a flicker. He can't recognise himself in this doctor turned drug-peddler.

All he finds in the room is an invitation, to a masquerade ball to be held at Blackheath House, from a Lord and Lady Hardcastle to celebrate the return of their daughter Evelyn from Paris. He also learns that 19 years ago their young son was murdered in the forest and the ball coincides with the anniversary of the murder.

During his next few hours trying to recover some vestige of his world, desperate to get help to find the body of the murdered woman, he meets a man in the dress of a 17th Century Plague Doctor. This masked man unsettles him even further with his questions and especially with his parting words, “the footman will find you soon”.

The next time he awakes he finds himself as the butler, Roger Collins, but he is violently assaulted by one of the guests before he can find out what is happening to him. However, it is not long before he receives another visit from the Plague Doctor who tells him that there will be a murder at the ball that evening and that this day of the murder will take place eight times. In each of the eight days he will see the day through the eyes of a different person within Blackheath House. If at the end of these eight days he can provide the Plague Doctor with proof of who committed the murder he will be free to leave, but if he fails he will have to go on repeating the days again and again.

This is an intriguing twist to the detective story adding an element of the Victorian Gothic to the plot. Will the man find his true identity or be damned to a life of Sisyphean struggle repeating over and over the eight days, or can his experiences reveal the truth? If he does succeed will the Plague Doctor set him free from this monstrous place?

A remarkable debut to look out for.

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