I believe I have already spoken about my firm belief that certain books enter your life at a certain, oportune, moment in time.
This was certainly the case for me and The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.
I ordered the book back in October, and when it arrived I was a bit hesitant to read it. It just sounded so damn good I didn’t think my work was at a stage where it could reasonably tolerate my getting lost in a novel for three days straight.
I started reading it earlier this year, and my fears were validated within the first chapter. This was definitely a book that would hold my mind hostage if I chose to keep going.
So I set it aside and only read it this summer, when work and life were far less stable yet again, but when the time was clearly ripe.
Are you familiar with the feeling of going to bed longing for the morning to come so you can keep reading? I used to put myself to sleep thinking about the plot and possible solutions (have come up with 6, all of which have missed the mark), and couldn’t wait to get up and read.
But I also didn’t want to finish it. It was just that incredibly good.
If you know me, you know that two of my absolute all time favorite authors are Carlos Ruis Zafon and Agatha Christie. And now here was Stuart Turton, who has managed to blend both of these amazing authors in a novel that is mind-bendingly, mind-numbingly, mind-bogglingly incredible.
So good in fact I had to tell the world (and Stuart) just how good.
And then this happened:
Never in my wildest dreams would I ever have dared imagine I’d have the audacity to tell someone I thought was so intelligent, creative, imaginative, ingenious, with such an amazing talent for plot and language that I enjoyed their work. Let alone take things a step further and ask for an interview.
Nevertheless, my mind apparently snapped, the necessary courage was found, and here we find ourselves today, me typing away about the “second best book I have ever read” (the first one naturally being The Shadow of the Wind), and you hopefully adding The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle to your cart.
While you already know the book is incredible – and it is unimaginably incredible, like nothing you have ever read or will ever read again, in case I haven’t stressed that enough – let me tell you a bit more about it, just so you know what you are getting yourself into.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle can best be described as a manor house murder mystery with a twist, the twist being that the narrator, Aiden Bishop, has 8 days to solve the murder from the title. Not much of a twist, I can hear you muttering.
How about if I tell you Aiden wakes up each morning in the body of a different host, one of the members of the house party at the end of which Evelyn Hardcastle is to die?
And that he gets to live the same day eight times in a different body, coming across himself (himselves?) during the course of that day in so many intricate ways you will ask yourself how on earth could anybody manage to keep so many storylines straight.
Can you imagine the possibilities?
The plot itself reads like the very finest vintage Christie – and in true Christie fashion, once you finally realize whodunit, you will also realize you were served all the required clues to come to the same deduction yourself (trust me, I’ve read the book twice, the solution really is there).
And while on first reading you will just want to get to the end damnit and figure this whole thing out (all the while being very aware of the ticking clock and the complexity of the plot), the second reading (and there will be a second reading, trust me) will leave you even more in awe – as you begin to fully grasp the complexity of the puzzle that stands before you.
The language with which Turton takes you on the journey through Blackheath is scrumptious, delicate, infinitely fine and you can literally taste it throughout. It is very Zafon-esque in its musicality, and the precision with which he conjures up images, emotions and personalities is exquisite.
So much so in fact you will start to feel a lot of them yourself – some fear, some pain, some passion and confusion in abundance.
I would highly advise you to get your hands on a copy today and read it as soon as possible – preferably before you jump into the interview we are posting below, as it contains plenty of spoilers.
No, we won’t reveal the identity of the murderer, but we do go into some detail about the plot and writing process, and we wouldn’t want to spoil anything for you.
You deserve to experience The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle as I have. Fresh and new, at full speed and with a very open (and focused) mind.
And if you end up dreaming about Blackheath and find yourself muttering to yourself about potential murderers on your way to work – don’t say we haven’t warned you.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.
A: How on earth did you manage to write something so intricate, so driven, so complex, so good, without completely losing it?
S: Ha ha ha! Lots and lots of planning is the answer. I started with the murder, then worked backwards from there. Once I knew who died, I tried to work out why, who did it, how, and what their secret was. I then created a massive spreadsheet charting every two minutes of every character’s actions over the course of the day, so I knew where everybody was in the house. I then plotted that on a map of the house, so I could be sure people could be where I said they were, and they weren’t suddenly teleporting from one bit of the house to another to make the plot work. After that, I had a notepad per character filled with notes on their personality, motivations, etc. And two walls of post-it notes with vague, weird things I had to remember to do – “make sure D mentions silver twice at 6pm”. Once I had my ingredients, I started baking the book – and that’s when I got all the fun stuff I never expected, like the subtle prodding at the English class system and my worry about whether bad folks can be redeemed.
A: Which host was the hardest to write?
S: Jonathan Derby was absolutely awful to write. I’m a fairly happy, respectful person, so writing somebody so evil was hideous. Even worse, the terrible things he does in the novel were based on the real-life actions of a few aristocrats who did similar things, and got away with them because they were wealthy. Reading those stories and knowing there was no justice was heart-breaking.
A: What came first, the solution, the time-shifting body-hopping plot, the victim, or something else entirely?
S: It actually started with a desire to write an Agatha Christie novel, plain and simple. I read them all back to back when I was about eight and fell in love with the puzzles; the sense that each one was a game to be played. I wanted to do that! Then I tried when I was 21 and realised it was really hard to write an Agatha Christie novel. She’s already written all the really unique murders, and twists. That’s why she’s a genius. I didn’t have anything. Cut to 10 years later and I was on a flight somewhere, when my head drifted back to that Agatha Christie-mystery I wanted to write. It was 2am in the morning, I was stuffed full of terrible airline food, and somehow Seven Deaths was just waiting for me. Over the years, Groundhog Day and Quantum Leap had just congealed over the top of my initial murder mystery plot. I got my laptop out and dashed off 2,000 terrible words, and that was the start.
A: Were you at any point afraid you had made it too complex?
S: Most days, truth be told. Not for readers. I trust readers. I knew there was an audience out there who’d want to be challenged, who’d be thrilled with trying to keep up with the story, and get ahead of it. Most modern novels don’t really want to do that, and I thought there was a market for it. My worry was that it was too complex to actually write, and I wouldn’t be up to it! There was so much going on – bodyswapping, time-travelling, Agatha Christie-style mystery, philosophy, not to mention character study. Every day, I was terrified I was writing a pile of garbage that would never come together. In fact, it wasn’t until a year into the writing that I genuinely began to think ‘okay, this could work.’
A: Was there a version where someone doesn’t make it out of Blackheath?
S: Nope. This book was entirely planned before I ever wrote a word of it, so I knew everything that would happen long before I sat down at the computer, including who’d get out, and how. In fact, the only time I veered away from the plan I ended up writing 40,000 words that I had to throw away because I couldn’t make the new plot strand work. I still shudder thinking about it.
A: Was there a version where Anna and Daniel are also body-hopping?
S: That was a very early idea, but simple maths defeated that version. I worked out the number of guests in the house, then the number of people who would be Anna, Aiden and Daniel if they were all body swapping. It basically turned out that half the guests in the house would be our protagonists if I went down that route. That definitely wasn’t going to work.
A: The language of the book is incredible, you can practically taste it (I often read sentences more than twice, just to enjoy them completely), is this “your style”, or is this how you simply chose to write this book?
S: Awwww, thanks, that’s really kind. I loooooove reading beautiful writing, and was adamant from the start that Seven Deaths would be written in a style that I’d enjoy reading. The trick is to do that without making it too flowery, because ultimately this is a plot driven story, not a piece of literary fiction. I don’t know if it’s the way I naturally write, but it came naturally – if that makes sense. I also set out to make sure my second book was nicely written, but that’s got a completely different tone and style. I think my style varies depending on the story I’m telling, and what that requires.
A: Is there a bit of the author in a host somewhere?
S: I don’t think so! Each character was a Christie archetype that I filled with flaws and secrets, and sometimes nobility. I worked really hard to make them distinct, so each would present a unique challenge to Aiden when he inhabited them. Fortunately, I’m not as vain, greedy, ruthless, cowardly or venal as they are. Unfortunately, I’m not as brave, kind, smart, selfless or noble as they are.
A: Favorite Christie mystery?
S: The Third Floor Flat. It’s actually a short story, where Poirot walks into a room, solves the mystery in ten minutes flat, then walks out. It’s glorious, and a perfect distillation of why I love her style and that character.
A: What can we expect from The Devil and the Dark Water?
S: Fun! Lots of fun! It’s got a really good group of characters. It’s a bit darker than Seven Deaths, but it’s a bit funnier, I think. It’s definitely got more heart, but an equally knotty mystery that I want readers to try and solve. I really love it, and hope readers do to.
The Devil and the Dark Water will be out on Octeober 1st. You can pre-order a copy at your favorite bookshop today.