[ENG] 'The Devil and The Dark Water', by Stuart Turton



Stuart Turton

576 pages

There are not many novels I have recommended as much as I have with The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. The mix between classic Agatha Christie mystery novels with a science fiction element made that book an extraordinary and successful novel, selling hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide.

After such success and moving into the author´s second book, it was up to Stuart Turton to decide whether to repeat the formula or write something completely different. Somehow, Turton managed to do both at the same time.  Successfully.

The devil and the Dark Water is set in 1634. Sammy Pipps is a well-known detective with a problematic side that has taken him to be jailed in the Saardam, a boat taking him to Amsterdam where he will most probably be sentenced to death. We, as a readers, don’t know what crime he committed. And his friend, Arent Hayes, doesn’t know either. However, Arent has been his detective colleague for a long time and also some kind of bodyguard thanks to his physical abilities and dimensions. Arent firmly believes Pipps is innocent and he is trying to prove his innocence somehow. He won’t be alone. Along with him many other characters in the boat will need to come up together with a solution to beat a common enemy.

So far, this is the synopsis of the new Stuart Turton´s novel. However, I assume most of the people who will approach to The devil and the Dark Water is people looking for something “like The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle”. Therefore, let me try to explain the main similarities and differences between both books.

Starting with the structure. Left behind are the seven days we repeated over and over again from different points of view. The devil and the Dark Water is in this sense a linear and classical novel. We start with all the characters boarding the Saardam in the Batavia port, from where they will depart to Amsterdam. And then it finishes… at some point in the future. Can´t say anything else if I don’t want to spoil anything from the plot.

I have mentioned the characters. Same with his first novel, we have a good range of characters with different origins, social status and ambitions. Keeping the classic style, there is a first page with the list of characters – name and role, which will be very useful in the first few hundreds of pages. The devil and the Dark Water jumps from one to the other quickly, moving the action in a way that engages you in a way that you can’t stop reading through the short episodes that build the mystery behind the novel. Each character, all of them, have different reasons for being in the Saardam and finding these are also one of the big motivations for reading the book.

From the very first chapter we can see that every dialogue, action and detail can potentially be part of the solution afterwards. Turton forces us to be very attentive on every detail as each of these can be a piece of the puzzle when reaching the end of the story. I felt that the mystery in The devil and the Dark Water was easier to follow that in The Seven Deaths which in a way allows the reader to focus on reactions and behaviours of some of the characters and engage and understand some of the motivations behind each.

Other common factor with The Seven Death is that most of the actions takes place in a single location. Now we moved aboard the Saardam, a ship with its own crew and rowing slaves. The action sways to the rhythm of the waters that churn the boat. There is no map or drawing but, to be honest, I got used to the main areas of the ship quite quickly. Turton also uses the different people in the boat to talk a little bit about colonialism and slavery, amont other social topics.

We reach an interesting part: the fantastic or science fiction element. I guess there will be people reaching this book looking for a new fantastic twist that changes the whole conception of the mystery novel. And, actually, there is a supernatural thing in The devil and the Dark Water. Or maybe there isn’t.

A detail I haven’t mentioned so far is that the boat is damned. Be aware this is not a spoiler. In the first twenty pages or so this is already clear. The Saardam is damned and there are spirits and ghosts threating the boat looking for victims. The devil itself is looking to commit new crimes and all the crew and passenger need to be together to beat it. But, does the devil actually exists? The fantastic element on this novel is not as obvious as it was in The Seven Deaths and consequences of its existence will not be good for all the people on board.

Talking about the characters again. By now you would have guesses the tribute that Turton does to Edgar Allan Poe and his fictional characters Sherlock Holmes and Watson. The first one, Pipps, jailed. The second, Arent, recapping some clues to try finding out about the devil threatening the boat. Arent is used to have Pipps leading the investigation. However, in this case he is alone. Or he isn’t?

The mystery in The devil and the Dark Water is unwrapped in a very different way to The Seven Deaths. In the new book we don’t know the crime from the beginning so surprises will come up at any time, engaging the reader at all time with new events taking place. More than 500 pages might be a bit too long for what the mystery is and there are few chapters where it felt nothing significant was happening.

The devil and the Dark Water is surely a better mystery novel than The Seven Deaths. However, the change in the setting, structure and fantastic elements around the plot is built makes the comparison not a straight forward job. The devil and the Dark Water is a completely different and independent novel compared to its predecessor. The science fiction component is much less influential but the solution to the riddle is more satisfactory.

If you definitely want to be engaged for a few hours in a fabulous mystery novel, The devil and the Dark Water is a novel that you must read.