60 pages 2 hours read

Stuart Turton

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (published as The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle in Canada and the United Kingdom) is Stuart Turton’s first novel. The novel was first published in 2018 by Harper Collins; this guide references the first Canadian edition. The novel is primarily a mystery, with some elements of science fiction and fantasy. The plot features elements traditionally associated with the murder mystery genre made famous by Agatha Christie, since the novel revolves around a murder committed at an isolated English country house, where a cast of wealthy characters, as well as servants and household staff, all become suspects. However, Turton also incorporates elements of time travel, body switching, and multiple dimensions of reality. Turton’s novel was very well-received, winning the Best First Novel Prize in the 2018 Costa Book Prize awards, and earning a spot on several bestseller lists. Suicide is an important element in the novel’s plot and will be discussed in this guide.

Plot Summary

The plot initially unfolds in a deliberately confusing manner, with readers gradually coming to understand the complex setup of the novel’s world alongside the protagonist. The protagonist and narrator, Aiden Bishop, is trapped in a supernatural prison, forced to live the same day over and over. In each “loop,” or cycle of repetitions, Aiden repeats the day eight times, occupying the body of eight different hosts, and he works toward solving a crime. He retains the information gathered on previous days and can use this to attempt to solve the crime. If he fails to solve the crime, Aiden begins a new loop. However, he does not retain memories or knowledge from the previous loop. Aiden lives a full day in the body of each host, and if one of his hosts dies, becomes unconscious, or falls asleep, he can be briefly transported into the body of a past host. This means that throughout the narrative, Aiden abruptly switches between bodies and locations. The novel begins with Aiden waking up at the start of a new loop. Initially, he has no memory of who he is, or what he is trying to achieve, but he does recall the name Anna.

A mysterious figure dressed in the costume of a plague doctor explains the rules of the game to Aiden. The Plague Doctor explains that, as Aiden cycles through the bodies of the different hosts, he will see the events of the day unfold, leading up to the murder of a woman named Evelyn Hardcastle at eleven o’clock each night. At least two other players are also racing against Aiden to solve the crime: Anna and a sinister figure known as the Footman. Despite warnings from the Plague Doctor that only one of them can escape, Anna and Aiden begin to work together as allies. The Footman, however, is seeking opportunities to attack and kill them so that he can increase the odds of winning the game himself.

The game is playing out at Blackheath, an isolated manor house in the English countryside occupied by Lord Peter Hardcastle and his wife Lady Helena. On the pivotal day that Aiden is repeatedly reliving, a group of guests arrive at Blackheath to attend a masked ball. Lord Peter and Lady Helena have two living children, Michael and Evelyn Hardcastle, and are ostensibly throwing the party to celebrate Evelyn’s return from Paris. However, Lord Peter and Lady Helena also had another son, Thomas, who was murdered as a child. They are hosting the party on the 19th anniversary of Thomas’s murder.

Aiden cycles through the bodies of his eight different hosts, experiencing the same events through different perspectives. A man named Daniel Coleridge identifies himself to Aiden as a future host who has knowledge of events that Aiden has not yet experienced. Later, we learn that Daniel is a player in the game who is actively working to undermine Anna and Aiden. Working with Anna, Daniel, and the Plague Doctor, while also trying to avoid the Footman, Aiden comes to understand more about the events of the day and the crime he is trying to solve. During the masked ball, Evelyn seemingly shoots herself, but Aiden eventually figures out that Evelyn plans to fake her own death by suicide. However, her brother Michael Hardcastle (whom she thinks is working with her) is going to take advantage of the fake death by suicide to kill her.

Aiden has the opportunity to secure his own freedom by identifying Michael Hardcastle as the murderer, but he is determined not to leave without Anna. The Plague Doctor explains that Anna is a violent criminal who committed many heinous acts, including killing Aiden’s own sister. Anna was sentenced to Blackheath prison, but Aiden didn’t think the punishment was severe enough, so he voluntarily entered Blackheath to torment Anna. Nonetheless, Aiden concludes that Anna’s time in Blackheath has reformed her because of the way that she has loyally worked alongside of him. In their final repetition of the day, Aiden and Anna draw on all of the information they have gleaned so far and reveal the true story.

Evelyn Hardcastle is not actually a victim at all: she is a heartless killer who has murdered many people, including her brother, Thomas. Evelyn’s accomplice, a woman named Felicity Maddox, learns that Evelyn is planning to betray her, and she kills Evelyn. Thus, Aiden and Anna have finally solved the murder, as well as multiple other killings and secrets. Having fulfilled the rules of the game, the Plague Doctor allows both Aiden and Anna to go free, and they finally leave Blackheath. The conclusion of the novel and the resolution of the mystery show that no one is truly who they seem, and that people can change and redeem themselves by making intentional choices.