Readers of this blog might have noticed that I have a soft spot for novels set on sailing ships. The wilder the storms and the longer the journeys, the better, so when I came across the recently published The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton, I wasn’t hard to convince. Set in the 17th century on a ship crossing from Batavia (Jakarta) to Holland, Turton’s book is packed with wild storms, betrayals, demons, murders and a plot to make your head spin. If you enjoyed Ian McGuire’s The North Water or indeed Turton’s last book The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, this book will be for you.
Jan Haan, the governor general of Batavia, his long-suffering wife Sara Wessel, their razor-sharp daughter Lia and his glamorous mistress Creesjie Jens, board the ship Saardam as it sets sails for Amsterdam. The governor general, who has established Batavia as the United East India Company’s most profitable outpost, is returning home to become part of a powerful business consortium, the Gentlemen 17.
Also on board are Samuel Pipps, a brilliant detective, who for reasons unknown, is in shackles, his friend and escort Arent Hayes, a gentle giant who’s not at all who he seems to be, a reclusive Viscountess, an ambitious captain, a brutal guard captain and a lower deck filled with soldiers, sailors and rats.
As the Saardam is about to leave port, a leper casts a spell on the ship. It’s destined for bad luck, and the passengers know it. The question is who, or even what, will take them down? And why? When passengers start being murdered, it appears pretty much everyone has a motive. And what about the mysterious demon that seems to haunt the ship? It’s up to Arent and Samuel, who is stuck in a coffin sized cupboard, to find out.
The Devil and the Dark Water is a fast-paced book and the plot gets dizzyingly convoluted at times, but the writing is captivating and the short chapters which end on a cliff-hanger drives the story forward. It’s obvious that Turton had fun writing this book and the result is mesmerising. There’s a bit of romance, a mutiny, a devastating storm and enough action to take you far, far away from the Covid autumn of 2020…Tempted?
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton is published by Raven Books, 548 pages.