The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

A murder on the high seas. A remarkable detective duo. A demon who may or may not exist.

It’s 1634 and Samuel Pipps, the world’s greatest detective, is being transported to Amsterdam to be executed for a crime he may, or may not, have committed. Travelling with him is his loyal bodyguard, Arent Hayes, who is determined to prove his friend innocent.

But no sooner are they out to sea than devilry begins to blight the voyage. A twice-dead leper stalks the decks. Strange symbols appear on the sails. Livestock is slaughtered. Anyone could be to blame. Even a demon.

And then three passengers are marked for death, including Samuel.

With Pipps imprisoned, only Arent can solve a mystery that connects every passenger. A mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board. (taken from Amazon)

I loved Stuart Turton’s first book so much, that I had ridiculously high expectations for The Devil and the Dark Water. This book didn’t meet my expectations. It far surpassed them. In fact, this might very well be the best mystery I’ve read since The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which was also written by Stuart Turton (we got an extra half death in the U.S., which never ceases to amuse me). The Devil and the Dark Water has everything I want in a book and then some.

To say it is a mystery is to simplify this book almost too much. It’s a mystery. It’s a thriller. It’s a supernatural whodunnit (or is it?), and it’s a genius trip into the evil lurking in the Dark Water.

So, what made this so incredibly engrossing? Well, first I need to start with the setting. Both the time and place were fascinating. It takes place in the early 1600’s aboard the Saardam, a ship bound for Amsterdam. Normally, the expectation would be of a voyage filled with boredom, possible plague, and bad weather. Instead, the Saardam gets violence, mysterious symbols pointing to a possible possession, and danger from someone or something on board the ship. It became a locked-room mystery, with the entire ship being the locked room. It was fascinating, to say the least.

Now for the characters. There is a small cast of characters, and every single one of them is hiding something. First and foremost, I have to mention Sammy Pip. He has the mind of Sherlock Holmes and is quite possibly the only one on the ship who could easily decipher what is going on. Unfortunately, he is a prisoner, locked in a cell. Instead, it falls to Arent, Sammy’s bodyguard and friend, to try to either exorcise a demon, or catch a villain. Arent is a fantastic character. He’s smart, but doubts himself. He’s also gigantic and is used to his brawn being what others need him for. As with everyone on the ship, the reader gets to decide: is he what he seems?

There are several other amazing characters on board, including a cutthroat captain, a Governor General who also happens to be a jerk of epic proportions, his wife Sara, and his mistress. There are other noteworthy characters, but I’ll leave it to the book to introduce them all. Suffice it to say, every single one of them has the potential to be a devil-or maybe summon one.

The story itself was superb! The mysteries had mysteries and every time I thought I had figured something out, the plot would twist again, leaving me delightfully confounded. I spent the entire book attempting to sleuth along with Arent, and had a blast doing so. The book had a kick of an ending, although I would have happily continued reading for another several hundred pages. Stuart Turton’s writing is just that good.

If you only read one book this year, make it The Devil and the Dark Water. It is utterly brilliant.

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