historical, mystery/thriller, review

Review: The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Turton’s debut novel, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, was one of my top reads of the year it came out. While there was some confusion due to a large cast and interesting timeline choices the plot was so interesting that it kept me hooked the whole way through. I will be re-reading that book for years to come. Unfortunately, the second book by Turton did not work for me in the same way.

A murder on the high seas. A 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. And then three passengers are marked for death, including Samuel.

Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes?

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

The opening scene is full of dynamic moments. We are introduced to the main group of characters that the book focuses on and quickly establish their main characterising quality within a couple pages. The questions that the first chapter poses had me intrigued and I quickly read on to see how the mystery would develop. Unfortunately, I found the plot to drag for a large chunk of the middle of the book.

Over the course of the first two thirds, the book expands on the cast to bring in more secondary character. The previous book by Turton suffered due to its large cast and I found that this one did as well. The character are introduced quickly, and there is not much time to get to know each character before the next one is brought in. I particularly found this to be an issue with the secondary character as they became more and more indistinguishable as the book progressed.

Samuel Pipps is the Sherlock Holmes of this book but falls short. Much of the his legend relies on other characters referencing the published retellings of his cases but when it comes to Pipps on the page, he does not resemble the man of legend. His character fell flat.

Cleverness is a type of strength, and they won’t accept a woman who’s stronger than they are. Their pride won’t allow it, and their pride is the thing they hold dearest.

As the plot progressed, my interest wavered. The cast of characters grew larger and all of the clarity in the mystery was saved until this end. Unfortunately this mixture of factors meant my interest in the progression of the book dropped off as I reached the midway point.

In the end, I gave The Devil and the Dark Water two stars overall.

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