Published by Raven Books
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle has been hailed as Gosford Park meets Quantum Leap by way of Agatha Christie. I’d throw Black Mirror in there as well, although there’s no discernible threatening technology to speak of; the stage being set in a decaying country house presumably somewhere in England, presumably somewhere in the 1930s. All in all an intriguing mix of genres, with the plot thickening at every turn and questions still begging for answers right until the last minute.
We’re introduced to the story as abruptly as our unfortunate protagonist is. He has awoken in a wood, in dinner attire, at dawn. With no memories at all to speak of except the name Anna, he is thrown into further confusion and utter helplessness when he detects a woman who he assumes to be this Anna character being chased further into the woods by an unidentified man. Before having the wherewithal to follow them he hears a gunshot ring out and presumes the worst. Within moments the other male figure shoves a compass into his hand and utters “East”. With no other choice than to follow the supposed murderer’s instructions he follows due east and eventually happens upon Blackheath Manor.
It’s sometimes said that to impress a publisher and avoid ending up on the slush pile you have to grip the reader within the first paragraph. When you’re introduced to a character who is shouting a woman’s name and doesn’t know why, realises he has no idea where he is, why he’s there or, as a matter of fact who he is, you can say with confidence that it’s a gripping start. The story continues as it begins, with a new character throwing up further mystery at every turn and an intricate story expanding rather than becoming more clear until at least the middle of the book, hefty enough at 510 pages.
Once our hero has established his name and profession (Sebastian Bell, a doctor) he deduces that he’s been invited to that evening’s masquerade party in honour of returning heiress to the manor, Evelyn Hardcastle, and that he’s been on the premises since the day before. The troublesome fact of his amnesia has spread among the other guests, but he soon discovers that he has friends and helpers among them. He also appears to have enemies; a foreboding character dressed in the garb of a medieval Plague Doctor, complete with alarming bird-like mask, seems to know a lot more than he does, and it’s either play by his rules or remain at a complete loss.
Bell soon befriends Evelyn and they both agree to solve the mystery of Bell’s memory loss together, along with that morning’s maybe murder and the emerging number of loose ends that need tying up as they tug loose the thread of the mystery. It isn’t until he awakens the next day bearing another man’s face that he begins to realise that perhaps he isn’t the good doctor Bell at all but another person entirely, destined to hop from one host to another in a bid to solve Evelyn’s murder before his last identity runs out.
It’s a hugely ambitious and well-wired tale, told from the perspective of one man in eight different bodies. As the story evolves so too does his character – he begins to learn more about his own motivations while keeping his hosts’ own personalities at bay, but using their individual skills to his advantage. It’s fascinating to see his hosts from different vantage points, from their own individual perspectives, to interactions with them to observing them from afar, and to figure out why certain events can be changed and why other events must stay the same.
In addition to the Evelyn Hardcastle murder our hero also finds himself embroiled in a homicide case from years before. Adding on to that is the question of his own identity and what on Earth is actually happening. It’s a rollicking story with one twist after another and will certainly please anyone in want of a fast-paced, utterly entertaining thriller. It’s a surprising, captivating tale that will leave you wanting more of its kind.
First published in The Tuam Herald on April 11th 2018