The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton – Book Review
The Devil and the Dark Water is nothing short of a remarkably turbulent mystery from Stuart Turton, an author who has firmly established himself as a twisty, mind-bending devil, himself. Prepare to set sail on a journey across the high seas; it is a journey where you’ll question every action and speculate every motive, a journey where nothing is as it seems.
When Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is imprisoned for an unknown crime, proving his innocence falls into the hands of his bodyguard and trusted friend, Arent Hayes. Yet this is no easy task – as Pipps is transported on the Saardam ship back to Amsterdam from Batavia, where he is to face punishment, a seemingly impossible and mystifying death of a leper occurs, and Arent now finds himself investigating two perplexing cases. Oh, and let us not forget one further detail… a devil may or may not be behind it all.
I first became aware of Stuart Turton from my friends at The Fantasy Hive, for a while Laura and Beth had both enthusiastically praised Turton’s first book, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which I recently bought. However, as soon as I heard about the upcoming release of The Devil and the Dark Water, I found myself drawn towards reading it first as it sounded perfect for the spooky season, which I can confirm, it was. I wouldn’t call this a horror book mind you, it isn’t gory or graphic, yet there is certainly an ominous atmosphere building throughout, a sense of claustrophobia as the characters are confined on the ship, and there is more than a little belief in the mystical and supernatural weaved into the narrative.
At first, it took me a few chapters to get to grips with the narrative – Turton immediately throws the reader knee-deep into a web of secrecy and suspicions, and so I needed time to establish the events clearly in my mind. Nonetheless, Turton’s prose was extremely compelling, he deftly built up suspense, the impending sense of doom, and so, as I kept turning the pages it wasn’t long before I found myself thoroughly invested.
‘Like everything on this ship, the solidity had been an illusion. They’d encased themselves in wood and nails, throwing themselves into the sea, believing their courage would see them safe. And then their enemy had raised its hand and shown them how foolish they’d been.’
I was particularly impressed by the misfit band of characters. Pipps, our Sherlockian detective, is just as eccentric and egotistical as I expected, and Sara, who essentially is our Watson, works well to subvert the stereotypes surrounding that character and present us with a Watson who is far more significant and capable when given the chance. Then I would argue that Arent Hayes lies somewhere in the middle of these two characters. He is a man you really feel for, a man of honour and principles. Arent aspires to have a mind just like Pipps, to have Sara’s flair for puzzles, and he surely could, if only he could look past his insecurities and self-doubt. As for the rest of the characters, well we quickly learn that they each have their quirks, such as; Sara’s daughter Lia with her intelligence and inventive eye, Larme the first mate’s fiery temperament, Creesjie’s flirtatious nature, Captain Crauwels aristocratic dress sense, and the Governor himself with his vindictive cruel streak. These characters become easily memorable and as the narrative spirals, we certainly see that they are not all as they appear to be. Turton shows us that looks can most certainly be deceiving.
I would say The Devil and the Dark Water leans heavily towards the historical crime fiction genre, with a dash of supernatural. I absolutely loved the way Turton takes the historical period and offers us some thoughtful social commentaries on the 1600s, particularly around the role of women. Sara and her daughter Lia punctuate how very little freedom women had and the injustice they faced. Beaten, raped, oppressed, at best ignored, a woman’s choice was either to marry or live in extreme poverty, and really, that was no choice at all. Yet both these characters also served to show ways of subverting this and illustrating how important it was for them to let their intellectual nature shine through.
‘The weak shouldn’t have to fear the powerful, and the powerful shouldn’t simply take what they wanted without consequence. Power should be a burden, not a shield. It should be used to everybody’s betterment, not merely for the person who wielded it.’
This novel is addictive in so many ways, and most notably it is downright fun. I could scarcely lift my eyes from the pages and found much joy in following the many threads which Turton leads us down. Piece by piece we build a tapestry of connections, every revelation couldn’t come quick enough, even if those revelations led to more questions! I’m very happy that I read this with a friend, shooting theories between us was honestly a huge part of the enjoyment. So I urge you to dive in dear reader, the game is afoot!
ARC provided by Bloomsbury Books and Raven Books in exchange for an honest review. All quotes used are taken from an ARC. Thank you for the copy!
THE DEVIL AND THE DARK WATER is out now.