The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton, Naperville : Sourcebooks Landmark, 2020.
If you’re looking for a thriller/mystery/adventure/historical fiction book this winter, The Devil and the Dark Water should be on your to-be-read list.
In 1634, a fleet of ships are heading from Batavia (in the Dutch East Indies) to Amsterdam. The journey is a perilous one. The trip to Amsterdam is a homecoming for Jan Haan, who has been promised a seat on the Gentleman 17, the ruling body of the United East India Company. It is (possibly) an escape for his wife Sara and daughter Lia, who want to run away with Haan’s mistress Creesjie Jens and her boys, and live together in France, away from the man who abuses them, and all men, who want to control them. It is a death march for Samuel Pipps, a world-famous detective, who is accused of spying and is locked in a dark room on the ship Saardam, and a trial to be overcome by Pipps’ protector (and Haan’s adopted nephew) Arent Hayes.
As they leave, a sailor on the docks proclaims the voyage is cursed by a demon, and sets himself (or is set) on fire. But the officials dismiss his claims and sail on. When the sails are unfurled, there is a bold mark on the sail, shocking all who see it, especially Arent, who has a scar that looks just like it on his hand. He and others recognize it as the mark of Old Tom, a demon who had terrorized their land for many years.
Then people begin to die, Old Tom’s symbol is found all over the ship, a voice is heard whispering to everyone on board, offering them their wildest dreams for allegiance and favors done for Old Tom, and a tempest hits, decimating the crew and damaging the ship. Is the devil behind all of this human or a spirit? Sara and Arent are determined to find out, to free Pipps, and to make it to land again.
This book doesn’t fit into a single genre. It is part mystery, part horror tale, part sea-faring adventure, part historical fiction, part morality tale, and, well, you get the gist. What it is, though, at heart, is a great story that is told well. Turton is an excellent writer who (in an afterword) admits he did his research, but ignored it or changed it when it didn’t fit his story. His story of a demon haunting and murder at sea proves just as hard to solve as a traditional locked room mystery or a Scooby Doo episode!
Mary Beth Adams is the outreach Coordinator for Alamance County Public Libraries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org