The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton was a book I’d been looking forward to reading for ages! I absolutely loved his debut novel, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. This was my favourite read of 2018 as I was blown away by the premise and writing. Having now read The Devil and the Dark Water, I can honestly say Stuart Turton is one of the best writers around. His knack to write incredibly gripping stories with a range of complex characters is executed perfectly yet again.
The story takes place in 1634 primarily on a merchant vessel in known as the Sardaam. This is a ship filled with secrets waiting to be discovered. Stuart Turton doesn’t sugarcoat life on a vessel such as the one in question. Many of the sailors are violent and cutthroat killers. It’s also extremely claustrophobic as everyone is confined into this one space with nowhere to run.
“We’re on a boat populated by wicked men,’ sniffed Creesjie, glancing at the other three for confirmation of her feeling. ‘It would be dangerous even if there wasn’t a devil stalking it.”
At the very beginning we are introduced to the character of Samuel Pipps who is basically the equivalent of Sherlock Holmes, the world’s greatest detective. However, things aren’t looking good for Pipps as he being transported on the Sardaam which is travelling to Amsterdam where Pipps execution awaits. We don’t know what his crime is or if he even has committed a crime at all. Accompanying Samual is Arent Hayes, war hero and friend of Samual Pipp. He I guess is basically the equivalent of Watson.
Even before they set foot on the ship trouble awaits them and its passengers when a “leper” announces that the ship is tainted and has been cursed by “Old Tom” a demon who is set on killing the ships passengers. The demon leaves its mark and symbol across the ship and on people in its attempt to cause panic and unease. Those who have been marked are essentially marked with the realization that they will be next on Old Toms list of the dead.
Thus, with Pipps locked up on the ship, we follow Arent in his attempt to to solve the mystery of Old Tom and identify the web of lies and deceit that connects each passenger. Arent must also attempt to prove his good friend innocent of the crimes he may/may not have committed.
So what can I say other than I am again in awe of another Stuart Turton’s novel. Considering the success of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, I’m sure there was a lot of pressure. Thankfully though The Devil and the Dark Water stands tall as Turton again shows why he is the master of writing mystery thrillers. He is able to write in this intricate and vivid way that instantly grabs you from start to finish. There are so many heart in your mouth moments as Arent and the companions he’s made on the ship edge closer to the answers they are looking for.
The story is told from a wide range of different characters. Like The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Stuart Turton perfectly executes his ability to write from the perspective of multiple POV. Turton made it super easy to follow what was going on with each of them.
The complexity of each character was super interesting. They all have there own distinct strengths and flaws which are highlighted perfectly in my opinion. This for me made all of them so memorable.
We have characters like Arent Hayes who is a war hero with a very dark past. Arent is haunted by what happened to him as a child and also by his days as a war hero. You couldn’t help but feel how uncomfortable he felt at being constantly reminded of the things he did during the siege of Breda.
“There’s no glory, except what the minstrels make up so thenobles can feel good about the slaughter they paid for. A soldier’s job is to end up dead far from home, fighting for a king who wouldn’t give them the crumbs from his table.”
We also find out that the current mystery is very much connected to Arent’s past. I can’t say why as it would be a major spoiler but finding out why made this an extremely spicy story indeed.
I found Samuel Pipps to be very interesting as well. He was a very eccentric individual who had mannerisms similar to the ones played by Johnny Depp. I loved his bond with Arent who is essentially the brawn to Samuel’s brain. You can instantly tell how much they respect and trust each other.
“Five years,’ said Arent, taking another gulp of the terrible wine. ‘He heard the songs about me and decided he needed somebody like that standing in front of him when he accused people of murder”
There are also many fantastic women in this novel. The ones who stood out for me the most were Sara Wessel and her daughter Lia Jan. After Samuel is locked away on the ship, it is up to Sara to be Arent’s partner in crime as they both attempt to stop the murders aboard the Saardam and uncover the secrets behind Old Tom. Sara gains a lot of help and insights from her daughter Lia who is a wee genius.
Sara is also the wife of the Governor General Jan Hann. Jan in simple terms is a power hungry cruel bastard. He uses his power to treat those around him like shit even his wife who faces domestic abuse at the hands of her husband. There’s one point in the story where Lia tells Sara not to get on the wrong side of Jan as he she couldn’t walk the last time she faced the full brunt of his temper. I honestly felt disgusted as he does something even more terrible on the ship.
Thankfully Sara does have her daughter as a trusted ally as well. Like her mother, Lia was also very intelligent and has a keen eye for uncovering hidden secrets.
‘Would you examine the passenger manifest and list of people Old Tom possessed for me? You’ve a keen eye and a quick mind, perhaps you can see something I’ve missed.’
One thing that really stood out for me was Stuart Turton’s incorporation of supernatural elements. There was this constant feeling of foreboding and everyone being at the peril of Old Tom. What makes it worse is obviously that there at sea and therefore can’t escape the inevitable. The strange things that occur on the ship and the symbols increases this feeling of tension.
“Once you bargain with Old Tom, you become its servant. You’re never free of it. It feeds on our pain, and those who don’t serve it a banquet are made to suffer themselves.”
The setting of the Sardaam ship is what further adds to the tension. You have all of these people stuck in one tight enclosed place with no escape. This leads to further deception as the whispers of Old Tom take hold of people in their attempt to save their own necks. It gives this sense of claustrophobia and the fact that there is no escape from Old Tom.
Finally, the ending was just phenomenal. The way everything comes to light was pure magic for me as since the start you’re on the edge as to what and why everything is happening. Then when it finally came to fruition my reaction was 😱😱😱
Overall, another exciting mystery thriller by the great Stuart Turton. It was full of so many twists that I didn’t once expect and definitely kept me on my toes. The characters were all so memorable and fantastic. I loved getting to know them and how they all coped being on board the Saardam. I really hope that this isn’t the final book that focuses on Arent,Samuel, and Sara. I would truly love to see what happens next in their lives and what journeys await them.
If you’re looking to be kept on the edge then I thoroughly recommend you read this! The revelations that unwind were beautifully executed and I honestly could have read another 500 pages.
Thank you so much to Bloomsbury and Eleanor for sending me a ebook copy of the book. Really grateful to have been given the chance to read it ☺️