Just when you think the classic mystery has been done so many times, with so many variations, that there can’t be anything new to say about it, or any new way to present a whodunit, a new book comes along to surprise you. Consider The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton, a surprising and fascinating take on the basic whodunit.
You have the basic elements: a house party at a fairly isolated place, a person killed at the end of the night, 1920’s era with all the restrictions that implies (no internet, no cell phones, limited access to the outside world), a limited number of possible killers, all of them known to each other. You’ve seen this story dozens of times, only you’ve never seen it this way.
Aiden Bishop is repeating that day, that party, over and over again, each time in a different “host.” If he can solve the murder and find the murderer by the eighth repetition, he will be freed from the repeats. If not, he goes back to the first repetition and has to go through this again and again. Each of the people he inhabits is a quirky individual, and not all of them are straightforward or truthful. What he finds out from one person is contradicted by another, and even though the events are the same every time he’s there, he sees things and understands things differently because of his different perspectives.
Oh, yes, and by the way, Aiden is not the only one being cycled through different hosts. There are two other people who are experiencing the same thing, and only one of the three of them can actually solve the murder and be freed, so there’s some competition going on among them.
There’s the murder mystery itself, there’s the bigger mystery of how this repetition is occurring, there’s a crazed footman who’s attacking the different hosts as well, and there’s all kinds of worlds within worlds, twists on top of twists. If you’re the kind of person who loves a complex plot and a high concept, if you’re the type of person who wants a book you can’t put down, you owe it to yourself to read The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.