Stuart Turton takes the traditional English setting for a whodunit—a country house thrumming with secrets, tensions and fears—and turns it into something completely unexpected. I have read a lot of crime fiction, and this is one of the most original books I’ve come across.
Take the way it begins.
“I forget everything between footsteps.
‘Anna!’ I finish shouting, snapping my mouth shut in surprise.
My mind has gone blank. I don’t know who Anna is or why I’m calling her name. …
‘How did—’ I’m cut short by the sight of my own hands. They’re bony, ugly. A stranger’s hands. I don’t recognize them at all.”
No, it’s not just a case of severe amnesia—the narrator, whose name we are told only halfway through the book because he has forgotten it—wakes up in a different body every morning (well, sometimes more often than that). Evelyn Hardcastle, the daughter of the host, is going to kill herself that evening. But the suicide is actually a murder, and the narrator has to find the killer if he is to get out of the house. His advantage is that time is on a loop, and the day keeps repeating itself. Endlessly.
The narrator (who eventually finds out that he is called Adrian) has eight hosts. He can only exist in these, never as himself. Each of these eight men is in some way involved in the murder, whether directly or indirectly. All of these are guests at the house or work there. But who are the others? The Footman, whose very mention terrifies Adrian but he doesn’t know why. Then there is the man in the mask with the beaked nose, who keeps appearing and seems to know far more than he is letting on. And finally, who is Anna? Is she a friend, a murderer or a victim whom Adrian has to save?
Each time Adrian wakes up in another body, he has to contend not just with the physical reality of his host but also his mental makeup, trying to use any skills or knowledge the man has without letting him overwhelm Adrian. And because time is on a loop, Adrian can build the day’s events from several points of view. He might even be able to save Evelyn.
It sounds a little too clever but somehow Turton keeps all the balls in the air. I honestly don’t know how he does it, but the timelines all add up. It was complicated enough to keep me hooked but not convoluted enough to make me give up. The way he describes Adrian inhabiting his hosts was brilliantly done—you are in their head but you are also observing them. It is a world of smoke and mirrors and as a reader, you find yourself trying to help Adrian solve the mystery, not just of the murder, but the way this world works.
Absolutely brilliant. Read this—I guarantee it will keep you up into the early hours of the morning.
Read the review of Turton’s second book, The Devil and the Dark Water.