The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Who remembers Quantum Leap? It was a television show that ran from 1989-1993 and followed Dr. Sam Beckett and his experiment in time travel, which caused him to become conscious, at the beginning of each episode, in a different body, not knowing who or where he was, or when it happened. Before the end of each episode, Sam had to correct some event in the period in which he found himself by acting as the person he inhabited. Once that was done, he would shift in time again to another person, another place, another era.

Now, imagine if the creator of Quantum Leap, Donald P. Bellisario, co-wrote a mystery novel with an accomplished mystery writer like Agatha Christie or Anthony Horowitz. If the two worked well together, the result, if we were lucky, might be half as good as Stuart Turton’s debut novel The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.

“I forget everything between footsteps."

“Anna!” I finish shouting, snapping my mouth shut in surprise.

My mind has gone blank. I don’t know who Anna is or why I’m calling her name. I don’t even know how I got here. I’m standing in a forest, shielding my eyes from the spitting rain. My heart’s thumping. I reek of sweat and my legs are shaking. I must have been running but I can't remember why.

“How did –“ I’m cut short by the sight of my own hands. They’re bony, ugly. A stranger’s hands. I don’t recognize them at all. Feeling the first touch of panic, I try to recall something else about myself: a family member, my address, age . . . anything, but nothing’s coming. I don’t even have a name. Every memory I had a few seconds ago is gone.”

Soon, the nameless protagonist learns three things:

  1. Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m.
  2. For the next eight days, the day of the murder will repeat and they will live through that day inhabiting a different person
  3. If on the eighth day they can identify Evelyn’s killer, they are free. If not, the eight-day cycle will begin again.

In The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Stuart Turton tells a story that is more than a bit difficult to categorize. It is part science fiction (or fantasy, depending on how you believe the time travel and body-switching are managed), part psychological thriller, and part classic whodunit mystery. These are genres that are rarely combined and rarely done so skillfully. When they are, more often than not, one genre’s tropes overshadow others, resulting in a story that is primarily one genre, with a “taste” of the other(s). Not so in this novel, where all of the story elements are equally necessary and equally distributed throughout. The result is, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, “a sci-fi, wrapped in a mystery, inside a thriller.

The characters are compelling, if not always likable, and a number of them will seem more than willing to commit the murder at the center of the plot. Turton keeps the action moving and there are revelations with each change in perspective that help move things toward a most satisfying resolution.

While The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is truly a marvel, first time novelist Turton makes it look easy to seamlessly combine these disparate elements of storytelling into a novel that becomes a page-turner, regardless of which genre’s elements may have tempted you into reading the story.