BookBrowse Reviews The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Devil and the Dark Water

by Stuart Turton

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton X
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2020, 480 pages
    Jul 6, 2021, 448 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
Buy This Book

About this Book



Aboard a ship to Amsterdam in 1634, a bodyguard attempts to prove his employer is innocent of a crime, but a series of "unholy miracles" complicates his mission.

In 1634 on the day that world famous detective Samuel Pipps is set to board the Sardaam from Batavia to Amsterdam in handcuffs, the ship is approached by a leper who climbs atop a crate to declare a frightening prophecy: "The Sardaam's cargo is sin, and all who board her will be brought to merciless ruin. She will not reach Amsterdam." The man then bursts into flames and dies moments later, at which time it's discovered that, despite the prophecy he just announced, he has no tongue.

While the opening of this standalone mystery is explosive, The Devil and the Dark Water is a slow burner. It mostly follows Arent, Samuel Pipps' bodyguard, a gruff yet honorable man intent on proving the innocence of his accused employer. It also follows Sara Wessel, a noblewoman trapped in an abusive marriage hoping to make a new life for herself in Amsterdam. The two form an unlikely friendship as the ship comes under siege by dark forces in the form of a demon called Old Tom that has a terrifying link to Arent's past.

In his sophomore novel after the wildly successful debut The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Stuart Turton expertly marries the classic detective novel with the supernatural. Whether Old Tom is an actual devil or the work of any of the humans on board is unclear for the majority of the story, but a paranormal presence can be acutely felt throughout, as a series of three "unholy miracles" occurs, starting with the slaughter of all the animals in a pen that was inaccessible to the passengers.

Though the novel is not outright scary, there's something distinctly chilling about the atmosphere that Turton has created. Effectively evoking the spirit of classic locked-room mysteries like Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile, he offers an intriguing cast of characters whose ambiguous pasts and motives are all sufficiently compelling to infuse the novel with a sense of paranoia and mistrust.

The author also subverts the classic detective formula with the fact that the detective in question — Samuel Pipps — is in chains throughout the voyage. The work of solving the mystery then falls to Arent, Pipps' second-in-command who has always been the brawn to Pipps' brain. Arent protests frequently that he isn't the right man for this job, but with his employer locked away for a crime that he may or may not have committed, he's the only one who can be trusted to help.

It isn't apparent just how much of an accomplishment The Devil and the Dark Water is until you reach its brilliant conclusion. There are elements that may give the reader pause throughout — notably the slow pace and a number of coincidences that starts to border on the absurd — but this is a book that rewards both patience and attention to detail. Trust that Turton knows what he's doing, that he is leading you somewhere both shocking and rewarding. In the meantime, there's plenty to enjoy — lively prose, intriguing characters, a compelling mystery and a beautifully rendered setting on the high seas.

Reviewed by Rachel Hullett

This review is from the The Devil and the Dark Water. It first ran in the November 4, 2020 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The United East India Company

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Monkey Boy
    Monkey Boy
    by Francisco Goldman
    Francisco Goldman's Monkey Boy exists in the liminal space between memoir and fiction. Like Goldman ...
  • Book Jacket: The Girl in His Shadow
    The Girl in His Shadow
    by Audrey Blake
    The Girl in His Shadow by Audrey Blake is a fast-paced historical novel set in Victorian-era England...
  • Book Jacket: Whereabouts
    by Jhumpa Lahiri
    Jhumpa Lahiri's Whereabouts has seen numerous comparisons to Second Place by Rachel Cusk. These two ...
  • Book Jacket: Swimming Back to Trout River
    Swimming Back to Trout River
    by Linda Rui Feng
    Linda Rui Feng's first novel, Swimming Back to Trout River, is a powerful meditation on the ties ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Book of Lost Names
by Kristin Harmel
A heartrending novel of survival, inspired by an astonishing true story from World War II.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Morningside Heights
    by Joshua Henkin

    A tender and big-hearted novel about love in the face of loss, from the award-winning author of The World Without You.

Who Said...

They say that in the end truth will triumph, but it's a lie.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!


Solve this clue:

H I T Best P

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.