Aiden Bishop wakes up in the forest with no memory of how he got there, who he is and why he is shouting the name “Anna.” There is a killer on the loose; he saw the killer chase a girl down with his own two eyes and knows he must get out of the forest immediately. The killer comes up behind him, gives him a compass and tells him to go north. That’s when he stumbles upon Blackheath Manor. It is there he discovers that his name is Sebastian Bell, and there is a ball at Blackheath Manor that celebrates the return of Evelyn Hardcastle from Paris. As he takes this all in, a man in a plague doctor costume tells Bishop that he must save Evelyn from being murdered at 11:00 p.m. by the reflecting pool. He will get eight chances, reliving the same day over and over again in different bodies, and if he does not succeed then he starts all over again, stripped of his memories and in Bell’s body. Not only does he have to find the killer, but he must compete with two other unknown lost souls in the house with the same goal. Whoever solves the mystery first gets to leave Blackheath Manor.
This is all within the first two chapters.
The “7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” by Stuart Turton is the definition of a “page-turner.” With every host Bishop encounters, he must find ways of using their skills or limitations to his advantage. On top of this, each host wants more and more control over Bishop’s mind, leaving him battling horrific impulses and wondering what part of him is Aiden and what part belongs to the host. “What does that make me? Or them? Are we shards of the same soul, responsible for each other’s sins, or entirely different people, pale copies of some long-forgotten original?”, as Bishop puts it.
The reason I chose this book for the month of October is that the setting gives off extreme haunted-house vibes. Blackheath Manor is in a state of distress during what we can only guess is the late 1800s or early 1900s. The paintings seem to stare at you, furniture is falling apart, a masquerade party will be thrown and there was a murder at the Manor exactly 19 years ago. The plague doctor popping in and out of Bishop’s investigation, as well as a mysterious “footman” who is trying to kill off the hosts for his own advantage, keeps the reader absolutely hooked.
“There’s a needle in every exchange, the air prickly and dangerous,” Bishop says. “Perhaps it’s nerves, or the hollow wisdom of foresight, but Blackheath seems fertile ground for tragedy.”
There were definite parts of pure confusion; there are so many characters to keep up with and Bishop seems to do a lot of body-hopping, but whenever something seemingly small clicked into place, it made me want to connect everything else and solve the mystery of why someone wants Evelyn Hardcastle dead, why Bishop is trapped in the cycle, who Anna and the Footman are and what’s the real story behind the murder that took place 19 years ago. As the book goes on, these questions blend, as everything in the manor is done for a reason, even if the reader just doesn’t know it yet.
One aspect of this book that I personally loved was Turton’s ability to give different voices to the hosts while also keeping Bishop’s voice buried in there somewhere. All the characters are so different – doctors and bankers to servers and artists – but none of them truly overlap. The reader knows who Bishop is and what his morals are, but at the same time we can see Bishop’s thinking shift, sometimes slightly and sometimes dramatically, every time he exists in a new body. Seeing how he uses these physical hosts was also wonderful to witness throughout the book.
Turton said that the body of Lord Ravencourt was his favorite to write because he was so smart and quick thinking but was such as large and old man that Bishop couldn’t use it to run around the house to find clues as he wished. Finding ways to overcome this and seeing how Bishop carries some traits over to the next host made for an interesting and unique read.
This book is perfect for those who love the mystery genre or need a book that will keep them on the edge of their seats for Halloween.