Summary and book reviews of The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

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
    Paperback:
    Jul 2021, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
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About this Book

Book Summary

A murder on the high seas. A remarkable detective duo. A demon who may or may not exist.

The extraordinary new novel from Stuart Turton, author of the bestselling The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, winner of the Costa Best First Novel Award.

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. A mystery that stretches back into their past and now threatens to sink the ship, killing everybody on board.

MANIFEST OF NOTABLE PASSENGERS AND CREW SAILING ABOARD THE SAARDAM BOUND FOR AMSTERDAM, AS COMPILED BY CHAMBERLAIN CORNELIUS VOS

Dignitaries
Governor General Jan Haan, wife Sara Wessel, and daughter Lia Jan
Chamberlain Cornelius Vos
Guard Captain Jacobi Drecht
Creesjie Jens and sons Marcus and Osbert Pieter
Viscountess Dalvhain
Lieutenant Arent Hayes

Notable Passengers
Predikant Sander Kers and ward Isabel

Saardam's Senior Officers
Reynier van Schooten, chief merchant
Adrian Crauwels, captain
Isaack Larme, first mate

Notable Crew
Johannes Wyck, boatswain
Frederick van de Heuval, constable

The Prisoner
Samuel Pipps

1

Arent Hayes howled in pain as a rock slammed into his massive back.

Another whistled by his ear, a third striking his knee, causing him to stumble, bringing jeers from the pitiless mob, who were already searching the ground for more missiles to throw. Hundreds of them were being held back by the city watch, their spittle-flecked lips shouting insults, their eyes black with malice.

"Take ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Governor General Jan Haan refuses to heed the leper's warning, and later, he refuses to return to Batavia. Do you think his actions are the result of disbelief or pride?
  2. Most of the characterization of Samuel Pipps comes from Arent's memories and opinions of him. How would the story be different if Sammy's perspective was in play more often? Do you think your opinion of him would change?
  3. Who has power throughout the book? Does all power look the same?
  4. What is the source of Arent's loyalty to Sammy? Is it solely because of the work they've done together? What else might be at play?
  5. Sammy's advice is to "hold on to what you know until you know what it means." How does this shape Arent's investigation? Could it have benefited him to ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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...continued

Full Review Members Only (515 words).

(Reviewed by Rachel Hullett).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Compulsively readable...perfect for readers who like a little occult with their mystery.

BookPage (starred review)
Turton’s characterizations dovetail nicely with his careful, clever plotting. Meanwhile, he uses history to his advantage, adding dollops of commentary on women’s rights, class privilege and capitalism that lend the novel a contemporary vibe...History and mystery lovers alike will delight in the heart-racing escapades of The Devil and the Dark Water.

The Guardian (UK)
The locked room murder meets a Michael Bay movie, by way of Treasure Island; you can’t know what’s going on, if only because the author won’t let you know until he’s delivered the final surprise – and another one after that. The effect is irresistible. Turton has got his world up and running inside the first two pages; thereafter, deceptions and diversions multiply until the ultimate, outrageous reveal, at which point the dark water turns out to be rather darker than you imagined.

Booklist
[A] rousing, action-filled mystery.

Library Journal
Blended with elements of mystery and high seas adventure, Turton's second book (after The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle) is an enjoyable throwback to the exaggeratedly intellectual plotting of Golden Age crime fiction, not terribly believable but great fun to read.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
As Turton ratchets up the tension en route to the brilliant resolution of the plot, he keeps readers in doubt as to whether a rational explanation is possible. Fans of impossible crime fiction won't want to miss this one.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Turton, whose brain-twisting first novel, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (2018), posed knotty challenges for readers, has a colorful tale to tell and does so in highly entertaining fashion. A devilish sea saga that never runs out of cutthroat conspiracies.

Author Blurb Ali Land, author of Good Me, Bad Me
The Devil and the Dark Water is mind-bending, genre-bending, intricate, vivid, intelligent, and with one of the most gloriously grizzly cast of characters ever. An absolute razztwizzler of a novel.

Author Blurb Ragnar Jónasson, international bestselling author of Snowblind and The Island
An absolute treat from the most original voice in crime fiction.

Author Blurb Simon Lelic, author of The Search Party
Stunningly good. A page-turning mystery on an epic scale, intricately plotted and expertly landed.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The United East India Company

Painting of 17th century ships of the United East India Company flying the Dutch flagIn the prologue of The Devil and the Dark Water, Stuart Turton writes:

In 1634, the United East India Company was the wealthiest trading company in existence, with outposts spread across Asia and the Cape. The most profitable of these was Batavia, which shipped mace, pepper, spices, and silks back to Amsterdam aboard its fleet of Indiaman galleons. The journey took eight months and was fraught with danger.

This richly detailed historical novel may center around a fictional detective, but the context of a fleet traveling from Batavia to Amsterdam is largely based in fact.

The United East India Company, or the Dutch East India Trading Company (known as "Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie" or VOC in Dutch), was founded in the ...

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