The Devil and the Dark Water – Review

An interesting 17th century mystery with a ship setting and horror elements that work really well, though the ending may not please everyone.

Author – Stuart Turton
Pages – 463

The Devil and the Dark Water is a unique book many people will have in their list of top reads – it has been reviewed many times so I’m not going to be giving you anything new outlining the plot and the foundations of the story; more just a case of outlining a few thoughts.

Maybe because it’s the Christmas period I don’t have as much energy for an in depth review. I also read it before Norsevember so haven’t written this review when it’s totally fresh in the memory. I think this works to an advantage in some respects because what I remember best will shine through in the review. So, what sort of stuff is in this book?

  • 17th century maritime setting (most of the book takes place on a ship)
  • Holmes and Watson style detective story with a twist – Holmes (Sammy – nicknamed the Sparrow, an intelligent, witty, slightly built enigma) is locked up on a charge of treason. His bodyguard and best friend Arent (nicknamed the Bear – a strong, not so easy on the eye giant of a man with a strong sense of loyalty and justice) serves as the Watson to Sammy’s Holmes although the characters themselves are original in their characteristics.
  • Slower start with a whirlwind of revelations and events in the second half
  • Horror/supernatural elements involving a demon called ‘Old Tom’
  • Adult Scooby-doo style mystery in which you must decide how much of the supernatural to believe

I’m really glad I read this book, it was basically a haunted house story (but on a ship) though I’d have liked a bigger focus on horror as these aspects were done so well! I know from listening to an interview with the author he did originally plan to make this story have a much bigger horror aspect with the ending more horrific. I think this would have made for a terrifying story; although there are scary elements there did feel to be a bigger focus on the mystery, detective and human element. I suppose that would have made this a completely different story and one the author ultimately chose not to tell.

This does however probably make this a more sophisticated story overall, and there are many clever twists and turns along the way. The ending, too, will be loved by some and feel deflating to others. I’m in the latter half, though I did still find it clever and an acceptable way to end the story. I think sometimes you have certain expectations going into a book that can affect your reaction to it. The plot went in a different direction than what I was expecting from the first 50 pages or so and this may have had an impact.

In terms of the characters, even the side characters are well developed and intriguing and you’ll enjoy working out what vested interests or relationships with other characters any of them may have.

The author’s writing style flows nicely and there’s a certain comfort to this that helps to immerse you in the story. I may not be the authority myself but the historical accuracy also helps to add to the immersion – life on a ship of the period, the social expectations, the viewpoints of the characters. The work Turton has gone to in order to implement historical accuracy certainly adds to the enjoyment of the book.

Ultimately, despite thinking the book may have been made more exciting with a bigger focus on the highly enjoyable thriller & horror elements, once you’ve read this you’ll probably marvel at the work that has gone into planning all the intricacies of the mystery – how it all comes together as the book progresses is remarkable and I applaud how an author with only one other published book wrote something with the maturity and finesse of a seasoned writer.

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.


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