(This review contains spoilers)
I’ve heard buzz around this book for a long time. Being an avid fan of all-things Agatha Christie and murder-mystery, when I heard people comparing this book to the phenomenon that is Christie’s writing, I was ecstatic, to say the least. Finally! A good murder-mystery to get stuck into and invested in. I read this in the space of 4-5 hours and while I’m certain by now you’re confident that I adored it and am recommending it to you…that’s not necessarily the case. While I appreciate the extensive details and plot lines that Stuart Turton has obviously put a lot of effort into building, I was honestly disappointed by the lack of follow-through I had expected this book was going to deliver.
Summary from GoodReads:
Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m.
There are eight days, and eight witnesses for you to inhabit.
We will only let you escape once you tell us the name of the killer.
Understood? Then let’s begin…
Evelyn Hardcastle will die. Every day until Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. And some of his hosts are more helpful than others…
First and foremost the design of this book is stunning. The cover is beautiful, the map on the inside is extremely helpful especially as you get lost inside the maze that is the house you’re entrapped in. The detail of the invitation establishing all the characters along with the statement of not mentioning Thomas Hardcastle and Charlie Carvier, were pages that I frequently flipped back to when I found myself lost and not knowing who my character was interacting with.
I don’t know why but I assumed that this book was going to be written in third-person. I understand in order to add to the thrill and excitement of solving the mystery of who is the killer, it would be beneficial to experience everything that Aidan is feeling and thinking. But, opening up in that first section where you’re present in the body of Sebastian Bell, who is suffering from amnesia, I couldn’t help but groan. A character with amnesia is, obviously the perfect way to establish setting, characters and previous history to a reader without it seeming too much. Later on, when I realized the set-up of the way the book was going to be dealt with, I accepted that in order for Aiden to allow himself to switch between hosts and try to solve the murder, he needed to be in a body that allowed him to be confused and asking questions that wouldn’t normally be allowed,
(The following part of this review will contain SPOILERS as a warning to those who haven’t yet finished or started the book!)
When we’re introduced to the star of the story, Evelyn, I was instantly hit with a Daisy-from-Great-Gatsby vibe. The innocently naive, foolish girl (“that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world – a beautiful little fool”). It was evident that Aiden was enthralled by her (and a little bit too obsessed in my opinion but that’s okay for a character trying to help her not get murdered…I guess?) Then we’re established to what this story is. The Plague Doctor talks to Aiden and reveals that he will wake up in different bodies from guests in the house and he needs to solve the death of Evelyn Hardcastle by the end of the day at 11pm. Along the way we meet Anna, who we need to establish as a friend or a foe. I had so many theories as I was reading along as to what had happened – as I’m sure everyone did – and as you can see on the side of my included notes page, some were really out there.
What is noticeable and interesting is Aden’s inability to, at times, control his host. It brings that question as the whether the hosts themselves are aware of what is happening and also – the main question in the back of my head – does that mean one of the hosts could still be the killer? I was half hoping the final body would be revealed to be the killer but that would have been a bit too cliche and I probably wouldn’t have been so content with it.
Let’s talk about the twists (sorry this may be a bit long there were quite a few):
The Daniel Twist – I have to hand it to Stuart Turton – that was a good one. I did not see it coming. I had mapped out all the bodies that Aiden would end up in and I wrote Daniel as the final one only to find out HE WAS LYING THE WHOLE TIME. Brilliant twist – really enjoyed watching out the development of his relationship with the footman and the understanding of who he was.
The Cunningham Twist – This one wasn’t as impactful, but I was still excited by the meaning of Cunningham’s background. It was so nice to have been suspecting him as a killer, or the illegitimate child of Peter Hardcastle, only to find out that his mother was actually Helena and his father, Charlie Carvier (they were in a relationship *shocked gasp*) I did like Cunningham as a character so I felt for him, as he tried to figure out his place in the family and his way around the house and the information Ravencourt presents to him.
The Plague Doctor Twist – Finding out that the actual book was a concept created as an almost scheme for convicted killers/prisoners threw me. They would end up in a murder-mystery – stuck – trying to solve something that is related to the crime the had committed in their past life. I was intrigued by this concept. I still don’t honestly know how I feel about this twist. Maybe pleased? I think it was a good idea to have the book circle around the idea that a way of torment for somebody who committed a horrific crime would be to stick them in a position where they, themselves, had to watch and solve somebody else’s crime, related to the one they committed.
The Anna Twist – It was evident that the Plague Doctor did not approve of Aiden and Anna’s friendship so it conclusively, in my mind, made me feel that she had done something horrific to him in their past life. My original thought was they were previous lovers, stuck in limbo, he came by choice to rescue her, and they would end up saving each other. The reality was a lot darker. It ties in with the previous twist, Anna killed Aiden’s sister. He came in for revenge and instead realizes after 30 years they aren’t the same people. It brings up another question but this time about humanity. Even after horrific atrocities committed, is there no redemption for a soul? Are they condemned forever to be the person that they were when they made that detrimental decision?
The Evelyn Twist – And this, dear friend, is where he lost me. I was not happy or shocked after this twist was revealed. I actually, honestly, stepped back for a bit and left the book on the floor for a bit before collecting myself and coming back to it. The amount of twists that are thrown at you in the space of a few chapters: Helena, Peter, Michael, Cunningham and Felicity. THIS WAS JUST TOO MUCH. I hate the “dead character, actually is alive” trope more than I hate foil used on a cover design. It just cheapened the ending to me. The Michael twist was enough for me. I didn’t suspect him at all. Even Grace turning around and being the killer or ONE OF THE HOSTS would have been better. I wish you could see the difference in my notebook as I head towards the end. My neatly written reaction turn into scrawled capital letters of distress. That being said I respect people’s opinions if they have enjoyed the ending. I’m glad it made a positive impact on you.
In conclusion – I have always believed a creator has accomplished something when they are able to evoke a reaction within their creations; positive or negative. So Stuart Turton in that respect blew me away with his ability to keep me hooked, unable to leave my sofa for a solid 4-5 hours. My only disappointment was the decision to continue twisting the story to the point where I felt the well-twisted thread had snapped and was hanging on by just a single string.
Language/Style: 9 points
Story: 6 points
Plot: 8 points
Characters: 7 points
Favourite Quote: “How lost do you have to be to let the devil lead you home?” (p.5)