This novel has been termed as Groundhog Day meets Agatha Christie, or even Inception meets Agatha Christie. While the reference to the grande dame of mystery is doubtlessly appropriate, I find Quantum Leap in a time loop a more fitting description of what the main protagonist had to undertake. That is to solve the mystery of who murdered Evelyn Hardcastle by living the same day, over and over again, but with a twist. Even with all the allusions made in describing this book, I still deem it as highly original; a heady concoction of genre tropes stirred and served in a wholly fresh and inventive manner.
It behoves me to hold back on mentioning the plot at all. There isn't even a table of contents at the beginning of the paperback I was reading. And as I progressed through the story, I realised that even having a clue of which day the next chapter may be is a potential spoiler. It is safe to say that one will be surprised and that one will not be able to predict much of anything. The unravelling of the clues is not apparent at first glance at all, but once they gradually fall into place, it is hard to keep your brain from going into hyperdrive and almost impossible to Put. The. Darn. Book. Down.
Scintillating and complex plot aside, I must commend the atmospheric feel of the location. The entire story takes place in Blackheath, an early twentieth-century manor house belonging to the Hardcastles that has almost fallen into desuetude if not for the gala masquerade party being thrown for their daughter on this fateful day. The state of the house and its extensive grounds exude the air of a mysterious place haunted by its tragic past and shrouded with secrets. The ominous mood and tone lend itself to fairly frequent frissons of excitement and I also half expected to encounter the supernatural at times. As far as setting goes, this is perfection.
In the same vein of classic mysteries, the party was attended by a plethora of guests, most of whom have their own deep and dark secrets. Secrets which can assist our MC to solve the mystery and get himself out of this 'locked room'. Blackheath is a mire of darkness and depravity; actors and actresses playing their roles behind masks which reveal more than they conceal. The intoxicating combination of an atmospheric setting, morally ambiguous characters, bewildering time loops/overlaps and unpredictability of the tale serves up a truly compelling narrative that refuses to leave your mind long after you have finished. The only thing keeping it from being 5-stars is this vague feeling that I wanted something a bit more from the conclusion of the story; just one more chapter perhaps.
Last but not in the least, the writing is marvellous. I have a weakness for the British manner of speaking and writing, and Turton delivers with much aplomb. At the hands of the author, we get a crime and mystery thriller full of sarcastic asides, dark and dry humour and brilliant descriptions of the mundane or otherwise. While I could happily do so, I will refrain from relating all the delightful commentaries one comes by in this novel. Well, do permit me to share just one line which described one's loss of previous good looks, to corroborate my claim above.
A ragged spectre of beauty suggests itself, but his stash of splendour has almost run dry.
As far as mystery thrillers go, my repertoire is lacking and nowhere close to that for the fantasy genre. Fantasy fans can also be harder to please when it comes to the more literary kind of fiction simply because we are so used to the fantastical and epic endings. Regardless, I am truly impressed and will highly recommend The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle to all readers.