A man wakes up lost in the middle of a forest, with the name ‘Anna’ on his lips and no recollection of who he is or how he got there. He hears a scream and a gunshot, is slipped a compass by a stranger and told to head east, and arrives at a dilapidated manor house. There he learns that his name is Dr Sebastian Bell, and he has been invited to Blackheath to attend a masquerade ball. But neither of those helpful facts are true.
His real name, we discover, is Aiden Bishop, and he is at Blackheath to unmask a killer and break a loop. Every evening, Evelyn Hardcastle – the beautiful daughter of the house – is shot dead, and every day, Aiden awakes in a different body, tasked with solving her murder. He has eight ‘hosts’ and eight chances to replay the fateful day – but if he fails, he’ll be trapped in the loop forever.
Complicating matters further are the inscrutable Plague Doctor, who seems to be controlling events; a psychopathic footman who is hunting down Aiden’s hosts; and the mysterious Anna – is she friend or foe? With two rivals also trying to find the solution to the puzzle, Aiden must act quickly if he is to win his freedom.
His hosts, however, are often more of a hindrance than a help. Some are physically uncomfortable to inhabit (one is morbidly obese), some have deeply unpleasant personalities (a drug dealer, a rapist), and all have memories of their own, which interfere with Aiden’s thoughts and threaten to distract him from the investigation.
Author Stuart Turton vividly conveys his protagonist’s frustration and sense of being a pawn in a game he doesn’t understand, and as time ticks away and Aiden gets no closer to unravelling the mystery, the tension and sense of threat escalate. Even Blackheath itself is a menacing presence: dark, shabby and full of gloomy corridors and musty rooms, this crumbling ruin takes on a sinister aspect, appearing as ‘a creature vast and dangerous and still’.
Described as ‘Gosford Park meets Inception, by way of Agatha Christie’, this tricksy thriller is a pop-culture mash-up that incorporates numerous references, from Memento to Groundhog Day to Doctor Who. Yet‘Seven Deaths’ comes across as totally original, and extremely clever. There are twists worthy of the Queen of Crime herself, and the plot is so intricately layered, complex and brilliantly baffling that Poirot himself would need all his little grey cells to unravel it. The pace accelerates to an electrifying climax, and you’ll find yourself blindsided by the big reveal – before looping straight back to the beginning so you can spot all the clues you missed the first time round.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is available from our website for £9.77, for delivery within 2-6 working days.
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