“Gosford Park” meets “Groundhog Day” by way of Agatha Christie – the most inventive story you’ll read this year.
Tonight, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed… again.
It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.
But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot.
The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…
This book, which was renamed The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle when it was published in the USA (so it wouldn’t be confused with The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hugo) was the August selection in our fantasy/sci-fi book club. It very much mixes your traditional 1920s-1930s set house party cozy mystery at a country estate with a strange sci-fi element, where our protagonist wakes up in a new body every morning. The house party where Evelyn Hardcastle ends up murdered every night is set at a remote, rather worn down manor house surrounded by woods. Nearby is a graveyard, and the lake next to which one of the Hardcastle sons was brutally stabbed to death several decades ago. The house party is allegedly to celebrate Evelyn’s betrothal, and there are a large number of posh guests convening to gossip, get drunk, hunt, and generally enjoy themselves at the Hardcastles’ expense. All of these guests are also accompanied by servants, so there is no lack of murder suspects.
Aiden, our protagonist, finds himself in a new host body every morning. Sometimes he’s in the body of someone rich and influential, sometimes he’s in the body of a servant. He inhabits each body from morning until evening but can switch back to an earlier body if his current host falls asleep or loses consciousness in a different way. He is deeply confused for quite a while (and the reader with him) until a mysterious figure dressed in an old plague doctor’s costume explains to him that he has seven days to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle. She dies at 11pm every evening, and if Aiden can figure out the name of the killer and give it to the plague doctor before the cycle is over, he is free to leave. If he fails, he will have his memory wiped and start the whole seven-day process over again. To further complicate matters, there are other individuals at the house party who are also trying to solve the murder, and it’s not in their interest to co-operate with Aiden. Finally, to add a real slasher movie element to the proceedings – there’s a psychopathic footman who is determined to kill all of Aiden’s host bodies before he identifies the killer.
Full review on my blog.