Apologies for missing my regular upload date for a few weeks! This has been a hectic year for me, and my reading overall has suffered, but let’s get back to business, shall we?
I read, reviewed, and really liked Stuart Turton’s previous novel, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, so I planned to read his newest novel as soon as I saw it was in production. Stuart Turton has stated that one of his inspirations was Agatha Cristie, and I can definitely see that. This novel and his previous were both “closed mysteries,” meaning there is a limited number of suspects, often because of the setting. In this novel it is because we’re on a ship.
This mystery novel takes place on a ship in the 1600’s that is heading to Amsterdam. The ship is filled to the brim with interesting characters. There are some upper class men, women and children, crewmembers who may or may not be murderous criminals, and a famous investigator currently accused of a crime and his assistant/body guard to name a few. As the ship sets sail a leper warns everyone of something terrible (and possibly demonic) on board before killing himself. The leper event grabs the attention of Arent, the assistant to the famous investigator, and Sara, the inquisitive wife of the Governor-General. Together they try to get to the bottom of the possibly occult happenings before someone gets hurt or killed.
Arent is a very stiff character, especially in the first half of the novel, but I liked that he started to come out of his shell as an investigator and as a friend to Sara. I also liked Sara. She is a high class lady, but she is much more than that when the overbearing men in her life aren’t around. Sara is inquisitive, intelligent, and quite brave. She also has some interesting secrets of her own. There were a handful of side characters I also enjoyed, like Arent’s friend/boss the famous investigator and Sara’s friend and daughter. As for the suspects, there are quite a few, and many have decent motives for causing the (possibly demonic) mischief on the ship.
I’m really not sure if it was just me at this point, because many reviewers seemed to really enjoy this novel, but I was not very invested in the plot. I’ve read a few books set on ships, and I didn’t like them, so perhaps I have something against stories set on the high seas? (I need to read something pirate-y now to prove/disprove this theory, because I do like the idea of a pirate novel…) Setting aside, I didn’t feel as much urgency from the plot in the beginning as the story seemed to want me to. Arent and Sara have a limited amount of time to get to the bottom of things because eventually they will reach Amsterdam and leave the ship and/or the ship may be destroyed on the way if there’s really a dangerous presence on the ship. Eventually the pace ramps up and the stakes become higher, but I was a little disappointed in the ending. And, like with The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, I felt like the world that the author built had a lot more to give. As with his previous novel, I wouldn’t mind seeing another book set in this world/time period.
The Devil and the Dark Water was a fun story with several twists and surprises in the mystery and a good cast of characters, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. However, I would highly recommend picking it up if you loved the author previous work or if you think it might be right up your alley instead.