Brilliantly bonkers murder mystery

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

‘Thirty seconds. That’s how long I hesitated when I first spotted her and that’s how far away I was when she was murdered. Thirty seconds of indecision, thirty seconds to abandon somebody completely.’

It is meant to be a celebration but 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.

There has been a lot of hype surrounding this book since its release earlier this year. It’s on the ‘must-read books of 2018’ lists in Stylist, Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire. It’s been described as ‘Agatha Christie meets Black Mirror’ – and I loved each and every second of reading it.

It boggles belief that this is Stuart Turton’s debut novel. He writes with great confidence, creating such an intricate plot I can only imagine the amount of planning that must have gone into it. Any of the myriad small details could prove to be the key to unlocking the case, so it’s vital that you pay attention.

The story takes place in a familiar setting – a crumbling country house in the 1920s, which has more than a few shades of a Victorian haunted house as well. But the story itself is anything but familiar. Turton takes the murder mystery and the locked room thriller and turns it on its head, creating something entirely new and original.

The cast of characters is large but each one is vividly crafted so you’ll have no trouble telling them apart. Although our main character is technically several different people, there is enough consistency to make you empathise with him and care about what happens to him. Interestingly, each of his hosts threatens to overwhelm the original Aiden; they get stronger with each new body he inhabits, until he can barely distinguish himself from the person he is currently wearing.

Although the main mystery is the question of who murders Evelyn Hardcastle, there are many other mysteries that will need unravelling before the book is done, and each one is just as clever, complex and interesting as the last. The pace never lets up, so each time you pick this book up you’ll feel the need to take a deep breath before plunging back in – and once you do so, you won’t want to put it down again.

There might be times when you have to go back and read over a certain passage just to make sure you know exactly what’s going on, but in a book this brilliantly complex, that’s a small price to pay – especially as you’re bound to have loads of fun reading it.

This is a fantastic book with a brilliantly clever plot. It’s completely and utterly bonkers, but in the best possible way. I urge you to pick up a copy.

Many thanks to Bloomsbury for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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True crime novel tells the story of a brutal murder

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale

‘Whicher exposed the corruptions within the household: sexual transgression, emotional cruelty, scheming servants, wayward children, insanity, jealousy, loneliness and loathing. The scene he uncovered aroused fear (and excitement) at the thought of what might be hiding behind the closed doors of other respectable houses.’

On a summer’s morning in 1860, the Kent family awakes in their elegant Wiltshire home to a terrible discovery: their youngest son has been brutally murdered. When celebrated detective Jack Whicher is summoned from Scotland Yard, he faces the unenviable task of identifying the killer – when the grieving family are the suspects.

This true crime novel from Kate Summerscale is a classic Victorian whodunit. Summerscale succeeds at taking a murder, examining the pieces and putting them together again to create a fascinating picture not only of a crime, but of Victorian society as a whole.

Summerscale uses the Road Hill House murder (as it became known) as a jumping off point for a discussion about a number of interesting tangents. Some reviewers have found this irritating but, if you are interested in the Victorians, you will find much to enjoy here.

At the time of the murder, police detectives had only really been around in England for the past eight years, and the public were less than keen that these ‘lower class’ men were forcing their way into middle class homes and digging up family secrets in search of clues. Nevertheless, detective fiction was quickly increasing in popularity and authors such as Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins captured the public’s imagination with their tales of clever detectives solving terrible crimes.

The Road Hill House murder made Victorians uncomfortable not only at the thought that someone was capable of such a horrific crime, but because it drew back the curtain on respectable family homes and exposed the secrets within. People began to wonder what others might be hiding. In an era in which the Englishman’s home was his castle, the idea that violence and insanity might be lurking within was truly a terrifying one.

Summerscale is let down only by the lack of information readily available about titular character Jack Whicher, who remains an indistinct figure throughout despite being one of the main characters. I never really felt as though I got to know him.

Although it’s not particularly difficult to work out who committed the crime, it’s still fascinating reading about the various twists and turns of the case, the trials and questioning of suspects, the miscarriages of justice, and the effect of the crime on each of the key players who were in the house the night the boy was murdered.

True crime fans will love this fascinating account of a Victorian murder that shocked the nation and exposed sins and secrets along the way.

New book releases for April 2018

Circe by Madeline Miller

In the house of Helios, god of the sun, a daughter is born. But Circe has neither the look nor the voice of divinity, and is scorned and rejected by her kin. Increasingly isolated, she turns to mortals for companionship, leading her to discover a power forbidden to the gods: witchcraft.

This is the highly anticipated novel from the Orange Prize-winning author of the brilliant novel The Song of Achilles, and is inspired by Homer’s Odyssey.

Release date: 19th April

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

When a drug bust turns into a bloodbath it’s up to Inspector Macbeth and his team to clean up the mess. He’s rewarded for his success with power, money and respect. But, plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, Macbeth starts to unravel.

This book is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Series, which sees Shakespeare’s works told by bestselling novelists of today. Macbeth is my favourite Shakespeare play, so I’m looking forward to reading this new interpretation.

Release date: 5th April

Just Before I Died by S.K. Tremayne

Kath lives with her husband Adam and daughter Lyla in a desolate stone longhouse deep in Dartmoor National Park. One day Kath wakes up from a coma, with a vague memory of a near-fatal car accident. She hugs her daughter and husband close. Then Kath learns that the car crash wasn’t an accident.

This is the new release from the author of Sunday Times bestseller The Ice Twins, a fantastic psychological thriller, and promises the same tense exploration of family dynamics.

Release date: 5th April

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

Greer is a shy college freshman when she meets the woman she hopes will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at 63, has been a central pillar of the women’s movement for decades. Astonishingly, Faith invites Greer to make something out of her directionless sense of purpose, leading Greer down the most exciting path of her life.

This new release has been called ‘the perfect feminist blockbuster for our times’ by Kirkus Reviews and examines themes of friendship, ambition and power.

Release date: 3rd April

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Restoration Britain by Ian Mortimer

The period from 1660 to 1700 is one of most exciting times in history. It is the age of Samuel Pepys and the Great Fire of London; bawdy comedy and the libertine court of Charles II; Christopher Wren in architecture, Henry Purcell in music and Isaac Newton in science. The civil wars are over and a magnificent new era has begun. But what would it really be like to live in Restoration Britain?

I’ve already read Ian Mortimer’s time traveller’s guides to Elizabethan England and Medieval England, and marvelled at the way he brings the past to life, so I’m very much looking forward to the next in this series.

Release date: 6th April

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Things Bright and Beautiful by Anbara Salam

When Bea Hanlon follows her preacher husband Max to a remote island in the Pacific, she soon sees that their mission will bring anything but salvation. For Advent Island is a place beyond the reaches of even her most fitful imaginings. Bea gradually adapts to life on the island, but the arrival of an unexpected guest threatens their already tentative peace.

Named a Stylist must-read book of 2018, this story of religious mania set on a remote island promises to be both ‘darkly humorous and atmospheric’ (Book Riot).

Release date: 5th April

I Still Dream by James Smythe

17-year-old Laura Bow has invented a rudimentary artificial intelligence, and named it Organon. At first it’s intended to be a surrogate best friend, but as she grows older, Organon grows with her. As the world becomes a very different place, and technology changes the way we live, love and die, Laura is forced to decide whether to share her creation with the world.

This novel has been called ‘the best fictional treatment of the possibilities and horrors of artificial intelligence that I’ve read’ by the Guardian, and sounds like it would be perfect for fans of Black Mirror.

Release date: 21st April

Trespassing by Brandi Reeds

Veronica’s grasp on the world is slipping. Her latest round of fertility treatments not only failed but left her on edge and unbalanced. And her three-year-old daughter has a new imaginary friend, who seems much more devilish than playful. So when Veronica’s husband fails to return home from a business trip, what’s left of her stability begins to crumble.

This sinister psychological suspense novel follows a young mother’s quest to find her missing husband, and the dangerous path she will walk to uncover the truth.

Release date: 1st April

Never Greener by Ruth Jones

When Kate was 22, she had a passionate affair with a married man, Callum, which ended in heartbreak. 17 years later, life has moved on. Kate has a successful career, a husband and a baby daughter. Callum is also happily married. But then Kate meets Callum again. And they are faced with a choice: to walk away, or risk finding out what might have been.

The debut novel from Gavin & Stacey actress and writer Ruth Jones examines second chances, messy relationships and why we make the mistakes we do.

Release date: 5th April

The Battered Body Beneath the Flagstones, and Other Victorian Scandals by Michelle Morgan

A grisly book dedicated to the crimes, perversions and outrages of Victorian England, covering high profile offences – such as the murder of actor William Terriss, whose stabbing at the stage door of the Adelphi Theatre in 1897 filled the front pages for weeks – as well as lesser-known transgressions that scandalised the Victorian era.

It seems we can’t get enough of Victorian crime, and this latest offering in the genre promises to examine the gruesome crimes that both shocked and delighted the Victorians.

Release date: 12th April

Brilliant historical novel reminiscent of The Great Gatsby

The Haunting of Henry Twist by Rebecca F. John

The funeral has become something resembling a party: the drummer turns his sticks between nimble fingers; the trumpeter arches backwards and dips forward, following the undulations of his notes; couples twizzle and flick their feet to the stop-time beat, dancing the black bottom. And between dances, guests tip flutes of champagne into open mouths and kiss each other’s cheeks before swapping stories about a young woman who has been dead for exactly seven days.

London, 1926. Henry Twist’s heavily pregnant wife is hit by a bus and killed, though miraculously the baby survives. Henry is wracked with grief and left alone to care for his new daughter. But one evening, a man steps out of the shadows and addresses Henry by name. The man says he has lost his memory, but that his name is Jack. Henry is both afraid of and drawn to Jack, and the more time they spend together, the more Henry sees that this man has echoes of his dead wife. Henry begins to wonder, has his wife returned to him?

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up The Haunting of Henry Twist, knowing only that it had been shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award in 2017. What I wasn’t expecting was for it to be the best book I’ve read so far this year.

The Haunting of Henry Twist is a beautiful novel that has so much to say about love, grief, fear and happiness. With its 1920s setting, its cast of Bright Young Things and its three-dimensional characters, it bears comparisons to The Great Gatsby.

Henry Twist is a wonderful character. Formerly a soldier in the trenches of World War I, his experiences in the mud watching his friends die have irrevocably changed him and formed who he is as a man, driven by fear and terrified of losing the people he loves. He is consumed by memories of his wife after she is hit by a bus and killed. Then Jack walks into his life, offering the hope that maybe he doesn’t have to say goodbye after all.

Despite the title, this is not just Henry’s story. We also follow Henry’s close friends: Grayson and Matilda, whose marriage is beginning to fracture under the weight of Matilda’s unrequited love for Henry, and Monty, an older man who surrounds himself with Bright Young Things so he doesn’t have to feel the relentless marching of time.

The atmosphere and sense of history in this novel is fantastic. In the years after the First World War everyone is struggling with the weight of all they have lived through, while trying their hardest to celebrate their hard-won freedom and have a good time. Bright Young Things flit through gardens lit by candlelight and decorated with fabric swings draped from trees, but beneath it all is the quiet acknowledgement of all the pain and suffering they have gone through to get to this point. Trying to have fun is not as easy as it seems.

The writing is also brilliant. John writes about character with piercing insight, so that they become living, breathing creations standing at your shoulder as you read about their lives. She captures their sense of dissatisfaction, their desperate, clawing search for happiness, with wonderful language and a real sense of empathy. At times the metaphors and descriptions can feel slightly muddled, but this can be forgiven for the overall strength of the writing.

This is a fantastic book and one that I highly, highly recommend.

Atmospheric tale featuring real life ghost hunter Harry Price

The Lost Village by Neil Spring

I am haunted by a man who told stories for a living. This cantankerous, ill-tempered and selfish man – the unlikely father of my lost child – is the reason I believe in the supernatural. I know now that death is not the end of life, and I know spirits walk the earth, because of Harry Price.

Many years ago, soldiers entered a remote English village called Imber and forced every inhabitant out. Each winter, on one night only, Imber’s former residents return to visit loved ones buried in the overgrown churchyard. But this year, something has gone wrong, and notorious ghost hunter Harry Price must reunite with his former assistant Sarah Grey to solve the mystery.

This is a sequel to Neil Spring’s first novel, The Ghost Hunters, and is based on true events. Harry Price was a real life ghost hunter, a man committed to debunking frauds, and Imber was a village taken from its residents to be used as a training ground for soldiers during World War I.

Where Spring succeeds is in taking these true stories and adding supernatural mystery that sends a shiver down the spine. He is adept at creating atmosphere; the village of Imber is masterfully rendered on the page, a ghost town riddled with bullet holes and haunted by its tragic past. One particular scene, describing a séance in an abandoned windmill, is particularly memorable.

However, where Spring falls down is his characters. An author can write the scariest haunting in the world but no reader is going to be truly involved in the story if they don’t care about the person being haunted. Ghost hunter Harry Price has great potential for a character; a man who spends his life debunking fraudsters and whose rational beliefs in science are frequently challenged by the things he sees, he nevertheless feels more like the author’s puppet than a character with any agency of his own.

Likewise with Sarah Grey, the book’s narrator, who has so little personality I’m struggling to think of anything to say about her. She doesn’t work out the answers through intelligence or skill, but rather through a series of random hallucinations that come to her at just the right moment. When the mystery was resolved and the curtain finally drawn back, I was surprised by the reveal, but because I didn’t care about any of the characters, I didn’t care about the outcome of the story.

I enjoyed this book’s mix of superstition and science, its creepy atmosphere and the mystery at its heart, but it should have ended 50 pages before it did. The twist feels unnecessary and tacked on at the last moment. I would have much preferred the book without it.

At its worst, The Lost Village is clumsy, nonsensical and dull. At its best, it reads like a Sherlock Holmes story, with a determined sleuth brought in to prove that the supernatural mystery actually has a rational explanation. There’s no doubt that Spring can write well; he just needs to spend more time on bringing his characters to life.

Many thanks to Quercus for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

New book releases January 2018

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

One September evening in 1785, the merchant John Hancock hears urgent knocking at his front door. One of his captains has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid. As gossip spreads, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel, and he is steered through the doors of high society.

This historical novel tells a story of curiosity and obsession, and author Louise O’Neill has said: ‘Good god, it is a wonderful book’.

Release date: 25th January

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

None of us ever agreed on the exact beginning. Was it when we started drawing the chalk figures, or when they started to appear on their own? Was it the terrible accident? Or when they found the first body?

This book has been called – rather ambitiously – THE book of 2018. Only time will tell if it lives up to that promise.

Release date: 11th January

Lullaby by Leïla Slimani

When Myriam decides to return to work after having children, she and her husband need to look for a caretaker for their two young children. They find the perfect candidate in Louise: a quiet, polite and devoted woman. But as the couple and nanny become more dependent on each other, jealousy, resentment and suspicions come to the fore.

This highly anticipated psychological thriller has already received a wealth of praise, and Publishers Weekly has called it a ‘gripping anatomy of a crime’.

Release date: 11th January

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest, while bandits roam the countryside. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince comes across a young man riding a magnificent horse. Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, Vasya.

This novel is the sequel to one of my favourite books of 2017, The Bear and the Nightingale. I’m hoping The Girl in the Tower is full of the same wonderful magic, atmosphere and lyrical writing.

Release date: 25th January

Swansong by Kerry Andrew

Polly Vaughan is trying to escape the guilt of a disturbing incident in London by heading north to the Scottish Highlands. As soon as she arrives, she goes looking for drink, drugs and sex. In her pursuit, she also finds a fresh kind of fear, alone in the eerie landscape and prone to visions.

This debut from Kerry Andrew is inspired by British folk songs, mythologies and oral traditions.

Release date: 25th January

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This is How it Ends by Eva Dolan

This is how it begins. With a near-empty building, the inhabitants forced out of their homes by property developers. With two women: idealistic, impassioned blogger Ella and seasoned campaigner Molly. With a body hidden in a lift shaft. But how will it end?

This cryptic crime novel has already received a wealth of praise and has been described as ‘angry, compassionate and mind-blowingly clever’ by author Mark Edwards.

Release date: 25th January

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once-grand castle of her husband’s ancestors. The widow of a resister murdered in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows.

With 2018 marking the 100th anniversary of the First World War, there are sure to be plenty of books – fiction and non-fiction – to mark the occasion. This one has already been called ‘a masterful epic’ by People magazine.

Release date: 2nd January

The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder and Madness at the Dawn of the 20th Century by Simon Baatz

In 1901, 16-year-old chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit was raped by celebrity architect Stanford White. Years later Evelyn confided in Harry Thaw, the millionaire playboy who would later become her husband. Thaw subsequently shot and killed White during a performance in Madison Square Garden. The following sensational trial gripped the nation.

This tale of glamour, excess and danger by bestselling author Simon Baatz is the first comprehensive account of a murder that shocked the world.

Release date: 16th January

The Job of the Wasp by Colin Winnette

A new arrival at an isolated school for orphaned boys quickly comes to realise there is something wrong with his new home. He hears chilling whispers in the night, his classmates are violent and hostile, and the Headmaster sends cryptic messages, begging his new charge to confess. The boy realises he must unravel the mystery at the school’s dark heart.

Any book billed as a gothic ghost story, as this one is, is bound to catch my attention. It’s been called bloodcurdling and brilliant, and sounds right up my street.

Release date: 25th January

The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. She has been forced to forge ahead in the snow-covered Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap to survive. But her fragile existence is about to be shattered.

This post-apocalyptic, coming-of-age thriller has been compared to Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven as well as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – so it has a lot to live up to.

Release date: 11th January

New book releases November 2017

Mythos by Stephen Fry

Comedian and actor Stephen Fry turns his hand to retelling Greek myths. From Zeus and Hades to Persephone and Pandora, discover why the Greek gods and goddesses are just like us.

Greek myths are admittedly something I don’t know much about, and I can’t imagine I would be in better hands to learn more about them than Fry’s.

Release date: 2nd November

Artemis by Andy Weir

Welcome to Artemis, the first city on the moon. Jazz Bashara lives in a poor area of Artemis and subsidises her work as a porter with smuggling contraband onto the moon. But it’s not enough. So when she’s offered the chance to make a lot of money, she jumps at it.

From the author of The Martian comes a sci-fi novel that promises a fun adventure in 1/6th gravity.

Release date: 14th November

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas Day in Oklahoma, he realised just how different he actually was. This is the story of Weylyn’s life from the perspectives of the people who knew him.

This debut novel has been described as ‘Charlotte’s Web for grown-ups’, and sounds bizarre and intriguing in equal measure.

Release date: 14th November

Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner

The Breakstone family arrange themselves around their daughter, Heather, and the world seems to follow. But as Heather grows, her radiance attracts more and more dark interest. Meanwhile a very different life, one of poverty and violence, is beginning its own malign orbit around Heather.

This first novel from award-winning Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner is a highly anticipated noir thriller that promises thrills aplenty.

Release date: 7th November

The House by Simon Lelic

Jack and Syd moved into their dream home in London a year ago. It seemed so perfect that, when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, they chose to ignore it. That was a mistake. Because someone has just been murdered outside their back door.

Called ‘taught, tense and terrifying’ by author Sharon Bolton, this psychological thriller is probably not one to read just before bed.

Release date: 2nd November

Artemis by Andy Weir SV

Mother by S.E. Lynes

Christopher grows up so lonely it hurts. Until the day he climbs into his family’s dusty attic, and finds a battered old suitcase. Inside the suitcase is a letter, and inside the letter is a secret about his mother that changes everything.

So many psychological thrillers promise a killer twist that ‘you just won’t see coming’, but this one has an intriguing premise and I’m eager to see whether Lynes pulls it off.

Release date: 22nd November

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell

A girl runs a coffin hotel on a remote island. A boy is worried his sister has two souls. A couple are rewriting the history of the world. And mermaids are on display at the local aquarium.

This is a collection of 12 modern fairy tales brimming with magic, from the author of the Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops series.

Release date: 2nd November

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Seven years ago the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a mockumentary bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Now a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain.

This sci-fi novel from the bestselling author of the Newsflesh series has already been called ‘a whip-smart thriller overflowing with social commentary’ by Kirkus.

Release date: 14th November

Jade City by Fonda Lee

Jade is the lifeblood of the city of Janloon – a stone that enhances a warrior’s natural strength and speed. When a modern drug emerges that allows anyone to wield jade, simmering tension between two crime families erupts into open violence.

This epic fantasy of family and honour promises plenty of magic and adventure.

Release date: 7th November

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

It has been 10 years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career and her pick of one-night stands. But when a new case takes her back home, the life Abby created begins to crack.

This debut book from Jessica Jones actress Krysten Ritter doesn’t sound particularly original, but has already been called ‘dark and disturbing’, so I might just have to give it a go.

Release date: 9th November