Mary Robert Rienhart defined the genre of detective/mystery novels as two stories, saying – “The mystery story is two stories in one: the story of what happened and the story of what appeared to happen.” As I read through the Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, over the Christmas weekend, I could feel all the truism of this statement and more. It seemed to be a regular whodunnit from the era of Golden age of mystery; the very usual setting of several guests, visiting over the weekend, in a English Country House in the initial decades of 20th century where a murder happens and there are the usual suspects, with a plausible back story, linking each guest to the victim in one way or another, until the protagonist finds the actual murder. Usual stuff, except Mr. Turton, takes all of these ingredients, and turns everything on its head an to write, what I can unequivocally say is one of the best mystery novels of modern times!
Lord and Lady Hardcastle, the owners of Blackheath, an estate, in England, have invited several guests, over a weekend, to celebrate the return of their daughter, Evelyn Hardcastle, to England after her 19 years stay in Paris. The guests are all friends of the family and the only unusual fact of the celebrations is it’s dated on the 19th anniversary of the death of Lord and Lady Hardcastle’s elder son, who was killed as a boy of 7, by the then gamekeeper of the Estate, after he was fired by Lord Hardcastle. The other strange fact, is that all the guests invited are the one who were present 19 years ago, on that fated day and while the then children have now become adults, and the adults, now senior citizen, in essence most seem to stay the same. There is also one uninvited guest at the gathering, unrelated wholly from the family who, is also seeking a closure on an injustice. Then there are maids, butlers, gamekeepers and host of other who live in the premises and who all are in some way connected to the murder that is going to happen.This then is the background of the event, which will see the death of Evelyn Hardcastle, and the quest to find the killer.
My friend Helen, when reviewing this book, wrote that she could not even begin imagine how much time and effort must have gone in writing this book! I not only agree with her, but add that as an aspiring writer, I cannot even begin to fathom, how I will keep track of the times, the threads and the characters. Very often, we find novels, with great style but no real plot or a great plot, but a dull narrative, that it simply does not come together! It is a testimony of the incredible brilliance of the author, that not only could he manage to create a narrative, that is absolutely unique and totally untested until now, but somehow hold on and make all the voices come together, all the while, sticking to the basic ethos of writing a cracking good thriller! At the core, there is a murder, but whose murder and how do we find the killer and the journey with author through the eyes of several characters and their own histories, makes for a fast paced read, where, each page gradually unfolds and adds anew new layer to the story. This plot as it evolves is anything but normal, and makes the mind do all kinds of gymnastics, without slowing for even a minute, and each chapter closes with one shocker after another, each exceeding and heightening the excitement from the previous chapter! In fact, the reader from the very beginning joins the journey in the middle of the events and therefore is able to join in the narrator’s confusion and agony, as they try to piece together, the full picture. The scope of the novel, the richness in the details and how the details, integrated further and further to become one new whole, is simply scintillating. Even in mapping out the characters, nothing was left to the chance. They are all full flesh and blood creatures, who while not being all good, have their own redeeming qualities and despite not liking them, you cannot help but feel empathy and even respect for many of their qualities. This ability of the author to be able to build a connection with not wholly positive characters with the readers, in yet another point, in praise of this work! There is so much, simply so much I can write about this book, but one must read it, to actually understand what I am talking about. It seems like a chunkster, but once you start, there is no way, you cannot finish it in the earliest possible manner, in the way it draws you in!
I had read somewhere, that all stories are the same after a point; on on surface, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle does seem like that, but with it’s narrative style, the fine tuning the nuances of the usual Golden Age mysteries and a wholly innovative perspective, Mr Turton has taken a “same story” and made it into a masterful, ingenious, novel.