When Stuart Turton describes his inspiration for writing The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, he writes that he “just wanted to write an Agatha Christie novel, the way she did. I wanted the big country house filled with secrets and lies, I wanted the impossible murder, the isolation and the sense of fairness that, for me, made Christie special.”
Tick. Mission accomplished.
By the criteria identified, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a classic Christie mystery, but with a twist. With quite a few twists, actually. To borrow Winston Churchill’s description of Russia, the book is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. One of my favourite of these onion skins involves a pair of burning gloves. Without giving away any secrets, we are introduced to the mystery of the burning gloves in chapter five (p.39 of my Raven Books paperback edition) and do not discover its resolution until the end of chapter thirty-six (p. 284). I read the last line of chapter thirty-six with both great amusement, but also with great relief.
Let me explain.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is over five hundred pages long. In this respect, it varies from a traditional Agatha Christie novel. It is a big read. A big read, which requires an element of commitment on the part of the reader, and you want to know that that commitment will be ultimately repaid. Reading The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, I reached roughly the halfway point, thoroughly enjoying it, entirely immersed in the complexities, intrigues and mysteries, but worried. I was worried that I was going to reach the end of the book and find it all a let-down; worried that not all the loose-ends would be resolved; worried that the explanation could not satisfy the set-up. However, the last line of chapter thirty-six put my mind at rest. It was so clever, so concise, so casual that I knew that everything else that followed would be equally satisfying. I knew that I was in a safe pair of hands. Relax; breathe; carry on reading.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a terrific mystery novel but, for me, there is an even greater mystery surrounding it. It is a complete mystery to me how Stuart Turton managed to keep track of all the complex character timelines; the plot twists; the red herrings, and still tie up all the loose-ends. I don’t believe it’s possible to juggle that many Post-it notes without losing one. Just one.
© Fergus Longfellow
Fergus Longfellow wishes he could be such a meticulous plotter.