Book Review: The Devil and the Dark Water

Previously: The Guest List Book Review| Coming Soon: September Reading Wrap-Up

The Devil and the Dark Water is the second book from Stuart Turton, the first being The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (Alternatively titled The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle across the pond). It is a historical fiction mystery novel and is published by Raven Books, an imprint of Bloomsbury, on the 1st of October 2020.

*I was lucky enough to receive an eARC copy from the publisher through NetGalley. This, in no way, influences my review.

Waterstones hardback edition of The Devil and the Dark Water. The edges are sprayed to match the pattern of waves on the front cover.
This is the lovely Waterstones edition. Would you look at those sprayed edges!

Set in 17th century Europe, the book follows a group of people travelling on a ship from Bavaria to Amsterdam. It’s not long before they find themselves plagued by mysterious symbols, promises of murder, and an undead leper stalking the ship. Is their adversary mortal man or demon devil?

I have seen this book marketed as a murder mystery. The book has both murder and mystery and yet this label does not seem to accurately describe this book. The murder takes place relatively later into the book which gives it a completely different sense of pacing, utterly in opposition to what the reader may be expecting. It’s a slow burn of a narrative, but this gives Stuart Turton ample opportunity to build the fabulous sense of atmosphere. There is something elaborate, psychological, and utterly predatory about the feel of this book as a devil stalks the decks of the ships, seemingly a step ahead of our characters the whole time. His writing is intoxicating in the way in which is grabs hold of you, just as much as the presence of the devil grabs hold of the passengers on the ship.

The pacing is not the only aspect of this genre that Turton subverts in this novel. The mystery is as well-crafted as those we see in or favourite Golden Age classics. It makes use of some of the conventions but only what the story needs rather than becomes trapped or beholden to those conventions. Although I thoroughly enjoyed Turton previous novel, this second book established this author as a fresh, new, and exciting voice within the mystery genre.

From the very begging of the book, we are thrown by the fact that our famed detective, Sammy Pipps, in imprisoned and therefore unable to investigate the mysterious happenings on this ship. Instead, it’s left to Arent Hayes his loyal bodyguard, who writes up Pipps’ cases for the public to read. This played with the genre once again by showing us one man, Pipps, who would be able to solve the case and rendering him incapacitated. His presence acts as a reminder than the mystery can be solved, and this is emphasised by Arent’s unwavering faith in his friend. Despite appearing to be in line with those traditional conventions, Turton does something ever so clever with this partnership which shows that he, as a writer, wants to push those boundaries.

All the characters of this book are written so that they can stand on their own feet away from the mystery. The focus is never just one the present, but also on the past. How did those characters come to be? Why do they act the way they do? Turton’s use of the past and the present comes together to create these beautifully formed and complex characters. I appreciated that the characters set their precedence for their actions as it makes the narrative all that much more compelling.

Overall I gave The Devil and the Dark Water ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of a possible five star rating.

I truly wish I could tell you more about this book, but I want to be purposefully vague so that you, as a reader, get the joy of discovering this story the same way I did. All that’s left for me to say is that I adored this book, and I am certain you will see it on my favourite books of the year list.

The Devil and the Dark Water is available for all the usual places right now. Waterstones and Forbidden Planet (affiliate link) both have these gorgeous special signed editions available. Alternatively, it’s also available from Amazon, Audible, and do be sure to check out your independent bookshops if possible.

If you liked this, why not check out… The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle Review, Rules for Perfect Murders Review, or Expiry Date Book Review.

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