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Locked-Room Legend: Where to Start with Stuart Turton

We know you know the 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. 

a photo of stuart turton and three of his book covers
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  • Photo Credit: Jeremy Bishop / Unsplash

If you want a locked room murder mystery to break the mold, then you want to get to know the incredible Stuart Turton.

Turton's first book, the award-winning The Seven and ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is astonishingly good. He has published three books that he describes as “my first one was my locked house mystery. My second one was my ship locked mystery. The third is my locked Island mystery.” 

Turton’s love of locked room mysteries came from his early love of Agatha Christie’s and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works. When he’d come across one of their works that was a locked room mystery, he’d get very excited. 

As for writing them, Turton explained, “I adore trying to plot them. There's something that happens in a locked room or an impossible mystery, because there's no fundamental reason for anyone to murder a human being that way…If you want to kill somebody, you can stop them, you can shoot them, you can hit them with a brick, you can push them off a bridge, there's 100,000 ways to kill a human being and you don't need to lock them in a room first.”  

Turton credits golden age mystery writers for making us think that locked room mysteries are fairly common. Plus it’s also a great way of playing fair. “If we just plot the impossible murder in a locked room, all the clues should be probably in the room” for the reader.  

But before he wrote his first novel, Turton was a journalist, even though he always wanted to be a writer. He felt that journalism was closeish to the world of fiction; but it would take him until the age of 33 to write his first book. 

The Last Murder at the End of the World: A Novel

The Last Murder at the End of the World: A Novel

By Stuart Turton

In his just released third book, Turton blends murder mystery with science fiction. The world has been covered with a terrible fog and only one lone island is spared, thanks to the island’s founders’ inventions of a security system. Peace reigns on the last piece of civilization, villagers live their lives, guided by three scientists. 

But one day, one of the scientists is murdered who had a kill safe that would turn off the security system. And the security system eliminated their memories of what happened the night the scientist was murdered.  The villagers have 107 hours to find the murderer or everyone will die. Each hour, the fog gets closer… 

Turton has called this work his utopian dystopia. It started with an island that no one could leave; he had to figure out where to go from there, from the deadly fog to the book’s setting in the future. It was then he realized the book was science fiction and so he drew upon authors like Arthur G. Clarke and John Wyndham that he grew up reading. 

“I like to call it a slightly more optimistic sci-fi approach. Sci fi now is more dystopia and is quite dark. We're in a sort of bleak moment in history. But in the 70s, and 80s, everyone's like, ‘Oh, the future is gonna be amazing. It's all flying cars and space stations, that will be wonderful.’ So I wanted to carry that optimism” into the book. 

The Devil and the Dark Water

The Devil and the Dark Water

By Stuart Turton

Traveling in the 1600s was no fun feat; it could mean death, destruction, or worse. But the merchant ship Saardam had started its journey on the wrong peg leg. As the crew and passengers load the ship, a person with leprosy appears and gives a warning that the ship is cursed. And then bursts into flames. 

Conditions on the ship are not helping to calm its passengers or crew. The famous detective, Samuel Pipps, is being held in the ship’s brig accused of high treason. His bodyguard, Arent Hayes, is on the ship to protect his friend and mentor.

So when the mysterious person with leprosy keeps making appearances, and strange symbols pop up, and murders start happening, can Arent help Pipps solve the case, even though he is stuck in a cell? 

After the success of Evelyn Hardcastle, Turton wanted to write something completely different. He saw his first book as his nod to Agatha Christie and Devil as his nod to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

He previously had read about a shipwreck in the 1600s and realized how hard it was to live during that time. “Everything can kill you,” Turton noted, “it was just fascinating.”

And that was where Devil began. 

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

By Stuart Turton

Aiden wakes up without any memory of who he is or where he is. All he knows is that he is in the middle of a field. Soon he learns that he is there to prevent the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle. He has eight days in different bodies on the same day to make it happen. 

When he dies or falls asleep, he wakes up in a new body and has to deal with the body’s strengths and limitations to try to stop this murder from happening again. And again. 

As a fan of Christie and Conan Doyle, Turton knew he wanted to write a locked room mystery. He wrote one when he was 21 but he described it as “dreadful” and put it in a drawer.

But “this idea was always chipping away in the back of my brain. I’d periodically sit down at a computer and go “Do I have the idea for that yet? No.” And then I would just go away.” 

After a decade, he was flying on a 2 am flight to Qatar for a story and the idea “just popped fully formed into my head,” Turton said. And then Turton had to set out to write it, leaving his travel journalism job in Dubai to return to the UK with his now-wife, then girlfriend. 

“I needed stately homes and I needed bad weather, the class system. I needed all the things that are inherently in an Agatha Christie novel, I needed them around me, I just didn't think I could write it in Dubai with a steel glass. It just wouldn't feel right.” 

Thanks to that 2 am flight, we got the masterpiece of Everlyn Hardcastle. Thanks to Stuart Turton for taking the time to talk with Murder & Mayhem!  

Featured image: Jeremy Bishop / Unsplash