The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
by Stuart Taurton
When I’m puttering around my house, I like to listen to podcasts. I tend to go back-and-forth between three categories: News/politics, interesting dives into social psychology, and true crime podcasts. Murder cases have always infatuated me, which is one reason that I love reading thrillers and mysteries. However, as my second trip around the graduate school train continues to eat away at my reading-for-pleasure time, I find myself longingly looking at my TBR pile and wishing I could plow through them faster. Then, I had an idea.
When I first signed up to be a NetGalley reviewer a few years ago, I made the ultimate beginner’s mistake: I requested EVERY book that sounded remotely interesting because I assumed no one would approve me. They did, of course, so I soon found myself with a huge pile of books to review. I have been slowly working my way through the pile, but my 50% feedback rate still haunts me. One day last month, I had an idea: Why not switch my podcast time to audiobook time so I can review my NetGalley books faster? My first experiment with this was with The 71/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Taurton.
This mystery opens with the main character waking up in the middle of a forest, not knowing who he is, but with the name, “Anna,” on his lips. He sees a woman running nearby and then hears a gunshot, so he assumes the woman is Anna and that she has been murdered in the forest. The murderer comes up behinds him and tells him to go east, and his fear causes him to obey. It’s at this point that he finds Blackenheath, a lavish house owned by the Hardcastle family. The house is being prepared for a party that evening, and both the structure and its inhabitants hold dark secrets.
The reader soon finds out that the main character’s real name is Alton Brown, and that each day of Blackenheath is part of a repetitive, never-ending game. Each day, Alton Brown wakes up as a different dinner party guest. He must relive the same day over and over– that in which Evelyn Hardcastle, the daughter of Peter and Helena Hardcastle, dies during a dinner party. The experience is a twisted game run by a figure called The Plague Doctor. Alton relives the same day as eight different hosts. He has to solve the mystery of who killed Evelyn Hardcastle, or he will loop back to Day One and start again as his first host that woke up in the middle of the forest with his memories wiped. His only help is Anna, who gets to remain herself, but wakes up every day with little to no memory of the previous loops. As a result, she interacts with all eight of Alton’s host bodies every single day, guided only by notes she has left herself along the way. Alton and Anna work together to solve the mystery so that they can escape the curse of Blackenheath.
Sound confusing yet? You’re not alone. This is a very complex story with lots and lots of deer trails. It’s tough to keep up with the plot, but that adds to the mystery. Even so, I thought I had correctly predicted how the story would end (Spoiler alert: I was wrong). If you like thrillers where you have a reasonable chance of guessing whodunit, this is not the book for you. If you like a winding mystery that leaves you guessing, however, you will not be disappointed.
That leads me to one of my major criticisms of the book: The character list. There were SO many characters in this book that it was distracting. I wrote down 37 names in total, and I think I missed a few. Even though I keep a reading journal, I had to go online and find a character list on Book Companion so that I could wrap my head around the story. You can find that post here: https://www.bookcompanion.com/the_seven_and_a_half_deaths_of_evelyn_hardcastle_character_list.html.
As stated earlier, I was trying to listen to the audiobook version, and that simply didn’t work out. I couldn’t keep track of all of the characters, so I eventually had to switch to the print version around 65% into it. Without doing that, I would never have understood the ending. Unless you are an auditory learner, I would highly suggest avoiding the audiobook version of The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Get yourself the printed copy. You’ll thank me later.
All in all, it was an enjoyable, although detailed read. Devout fans of mystery will love it. Those who dabble in mysteries or don’t want to focus too heavily on what they are reading will probably struggle to finish. With everything considered, I rate it 3/5 stars.