EXCERPT: The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton (Part One) 

Will you be able to solve the crime? 

evelyn hardcastle excerpt




The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

By Stuart Turton

Dr. Sebastian Bell 

Darkness weighs heavy on the graveyard, the iron fence buckled, trees bent low over crooked gravestones. Thick piles of rotting leaves smother the plots, the tombs cracked and crumbling, taking the names of the dead with them.

“I spoke with Madeline about the note you received last night,” says Evelyn, pushing open the squeaking gate and leading us inside. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course I don’t,” I say, looking around nervously. “It slipped my mind, truth be told. What did she say?”

“Only that the note was given to her by Mrs. Drudge, the cook. I spoke to her separately, and she told me it had been left in the kitchen, though she couldn’t say by whom. There was too much coming and going.” 

“And did Madeline read it?” I ask.

“Of course,” says Evelyn, wryly. “She didn’t even blush when she admitted to it. The message was very brief; it asked you to come immediately to the usual spot.”

“That was all? No signature?”

“I’m afraid not. I’m sorry, Sebastian. I’d hoped to have better news.”

We’ve reached the mausoleum at the far end of the graveyard, a large marble box watched over by two broken angels. A lantern hangs from one of their beckoning hands, and though it flickers in the gloom, there’s nothing of note to illuminate. The graveyard’s empty.

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  • Photo Credit: Wendy Scofield / Unsplash

“Perhaps Anna’s running a little late,” says Evelyn.

“Then who left the lantern burning?” I ask.

My heart is racing, damp seeping up my trousers as I wade through ankle-deep leaves. Evelyn’s watch assures us of the time, but Anna’s nowhere to be seen. There’s just that damnable lantern, squeaking as it sways in the breeze, and for fifteen minutes or more, we stand stiff beneath it, the light draping our shoulders, our eyes searching for Anna and finding her everywhere: in the shifting shadows and stirring leaves, the low-hanging branches disturbed by the breeze. Time and again one of us taps the other on the shoulder, drawing their attention to a sudden sound or startled animal darting through the underbrush.

As the hour grows later, it’s difficult to keep one’s thoughts from venturing to more frightening places. Doctor Dickie believed the wounds on my arms were defensive in nature, as though I’d been fending off an assault with a knife. What if Anna isn’t an ally, but an enemy? Perhaps that’s why her name was fixed in my mind? For all I know, she penned the note I received at the dinner table and has now lured me out here to finish the job started yesterday evening.

These thoughts spread like cracks through my already brittle courage, fear pouring into the hollowness behind. Only Evelyn’s presence keeps me upright, her own courage pinning me in place.

“I don’t think she’s coming,” says Evelyn.

“No, I rather think not,” I say, speaking quietly to mask my relief.

“Perhaps we should head back.”

“I think so,” she says. “I’m so sorry, dear heart.”

With an unsteady hand, I take the lantern down from the angel’s arm and follow Evelyn toward the gate. We’ve only taken a couple of steps when Evelyn clutches my arm, lowering her flame toward the ground. Light splashes the leaves, revealing blood splattered across their surface. Kneeling down, I rub the sticky substance between my thumb and forefinger.

“Here,” says Evelyn quietly.

She’s followed the drips to a nearby tombstone, where something glitters beneath the leaves. Sweeping them aside, I find the compass that led me out of the forest this morning. It’s bloodstained and shattered, yet still unwavering in its devotion to north.

“Is that the compass the killer gave you?” says Evelyn, her voice hushed.

“It is,” I say, weighing it in my palm. “Daniel Coleridge took it from me this morning.”

“And then it appears somebody took it from him.”

Whatever danger Anna intended on warning me about, it seems to have found her first, and Daniel Coleridge was involved somehow. Evelyn lays a hand on my shoulder as she squints warily into the darkness beyond the glow of the lantern.

“I think it’s best we get you out of Blackheath,” she says. “Go to your room and I’ll send a carriage to fetch you.”

“I have to find Daniel,” I protest weakly. “And Anna.”

“Something awful is happening here,” she hisses. “The slashes on your arm, the drugs, Anna, and now this compass. These are pieces in a game neither of us knows how to play. You must leave, for me, Sebastian. Let the police deal with all of this.”

I nod. I’ve not the will to fight. Anna was the only reason I stayed in the first place, the shreds of my courage convincing me there was some honor to be found in obeying a request delivered so cryptically. Without that obligation, the ties binding me to this place have been severed.

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  • Photo Credit: Marko Blažević / Unsplash

We return to Blackheath in silence, Evelyn leading the way, her revolver poking at the darkness. I trail behind quietly, little more than a dog at her heel, and before I know it, I’m saying goodbye to my friend and opening the door into my bedroom.

All is not how I left it.

There’s a box sitting on my bed, wrapped in a red ribbon that comes loose with a single tug. Sliding away the lid, my stomach flips, bile rushing into my throat. Stuffed inside is a dead rabbit with a carving knife stabbed through its body. Blood has congealed at the bottom, staining its fur and almost obscuring the note pinned to its ear.

From your friend,
The footman.

Black swims up into my eyes.

A second later, I faint.

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