Review: The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Rating: 10/10


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.


Turton paints a taut, colourful canvas on the page with deft, short strokes of the pen. The beginning introduces us to a bleak scene, coloured in intrigue, mystery and horror. The flames that licked the leper’s rags only a taste of horror to come … and a scene that gripped me hard with a startling, eerie sense of place. From every cleverly chosen word that pulls you into the depths, further out to sea, Turton’s writing is a true marvel.

Turton’s writing is a true marvel.

Turton’s expertise lies in the words he uses to craft a scene, surely meticulously plotted down to their singular place in a sentence themselves. His true genius is in simile, which he wields as a sharp knife to your mind, jabbing you with apt imagery and letting the vivid colours, the stark – sometimes brutal – scenes that are oft described as one thing like to another. But in that choice of comparative language, there could truly be no better one that which Turton has dreamt up. And it’s the imagery, in a captive story-telling arena aboard a boat, that really lights a fire on the page. There’s naught but sea and boat, but you wouldn’t believe it. There’s sprawling jungles of rigging, labyrinths of crates, a devil’s sanctum in the bilge water – all of it still only as background to the plot. But it’s that this stands out in my memory that makes the scenes crafted atop them so unforgettably good.

The mystery in itself is not one I’d dare to speak of in review – I’m not the spoilers type of guy. But believe me, if you like to be fooled, if you like to have a good go at guessing what’s up, and think you’re a dab-hand at mystery, then trust me, you’ll be fool. It’s the cloak and the dagger that’s concealed ’til the end. A mystery full of twists you won’t guess and turns you won’t want to go around. It’s a marvel of captivating story-telling that leads you like a fish to bait, only for it to disappear, replaced by another hook. I loved it.

The characters are alive and real enough to really dislike, in some cases. Arent, body-guard and apprentice to Samuel Pipps – the greatest detective in the world, has failed to protect ‘Sammy’ who is being transported as prisoners aboard the ship, so the only one to solve the mystery is the mercenary brute turned detective. And, well, isn’t he a lovable brute? He tries his hardest despite the odds against him, he’s unsure of all else except his reverence for Sammy and his past is murky, tied somehow to the devil that lurks aboard. There’s Sara, the governor general’s intelligent wife and Lia her genius daughter who make fitting partners for Arent to team up with. All of them having been ‘fans’ for lack of a better word, of Samuel Pipps, take great pleasure in saving a mystery that would have Pipps name all over it, and certainly has his guidance. The atrocity and strange goings on that bring these together are both riveting and intriguing and have left me wanting more.

Overall, my advice on this one is that if you like to read, put this book on your tbr. If you’re reading this review, that makes it a dead cert. Thanks. 

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