Review: The Devil & the Dark Water
Updated: Sep 12
The Devil and the Dark Water, by Stuart Turton (2020)
This murder-mystery thriller has a very Sherlock & Watson vibe, and like a Holmes story, it could be a little tough to keep up with! But I really enjoyed it.
The novel is set in 1634 aboard a ship, the Saardam, that is transporting spices - and a mysterious and secret cargo - from Batavia (present-day Jakarta, Indonesia) to Amsterdam. Also on board is world-famous detective Sammy Pipps, held prisoner by the Governor General for crimes unknown, and his faithful crime-fighting sidekick and bodyguard Arent Hayes. When a lame leper with no tongue somehow climbs up on some boxes on shore and warns of impending doom for the Saardam's passengers, the stage is set for a fascinating mystery-adventure story upon the high seas! Everyone is a suspect, with secretive backgrounds and possible motives for murder. This includes the supernatural threat of "Old Tom," a ghost story demon seemingly come to life to torture those aboard, and lay waste to the Saardam.
There are some fantastic characters, including the skilled and highly intelligent Sara and Lia, wife and daughter to the Governor General, a surly dwarf as first mate, the drunkard chief merchant, and an ill viscountess who quarantines herself in her cabin. I started out by listening to the audio version but soon found I was having too much of a hard time following the twisting plot, and keeping track of all the players (and their very Dutch names), so I switched to the physical copy... which is good because there is a map of the ship and a passenger manifest at the beginning of the book, which were both helpful.
This story held my interest and had me frantically turning the pages as I read, with a few gasps here and there at some of the reveals. The only reason it gets 3/5 stars from me (instead of 4) is that the ending fell a little flat. Within the last few pages the main characters make some decisions that didn't seem to fit with their personalities/identities, and everything was wrapped up a bit too quickly. I still highly recommend this book though, if you're in the mood for a good mystery!
Oh, it's also worth noting that Turton quite specifically says that this is not historical fiction because he took so many liberties with language, technology, gender roles, etc., so just don't go into it thinking it's going to be historically accurate.
I've put Turton's debut novel, The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, on my to-read list as everything I've read indicates it's an even more satisfying murder mystery. Interestingly that book was originally released as The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle in England... how come we get an extra half a death in the U.S., I wonder?!
UP NEXT: Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid