The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

‘The Saardam’s cargo is sin and all aboard will be brought to merciless ruin.’

1634, Batavia. The Saardam is preparing for her voyage to Amsterdam. Batavia’s Governor-General is returning to take his place as one of ‘The Gentlemen 17’, the shadowy group of capitalists who run the Dutch East India Company. He is accompanied by his wife, their daughter, and his mistress. And there’s Samuel Pipps, a celebrated ‘alchemical detective’ who is being transported back to Amsterdam to be executed. But why? What crime has he committed?

This is just one of several mysteries. Arent Hayes, a bear of a man, is Pipps’s protector. There is a mystery passenger, whom no-one has seen, and a secret cargo. Just what is ‘The Folly?

Once aboard, after an unsettling scene dockside in which a leper proclaims the Saardam is cursed, there is clearly something awry. Just who is the devil stalking the ship? And then there is a murder…

What a rollercoaster ride this novel is! Plenty of twists and turns, pieces of backstory slotting neatly into the narrative at just the right time. Irresistible and improbable. Everyone has a motive, or so it seems, but not everyone is guilty. Or are they? I kept reading, keen to try to work out ‘who’ and ‘why’. Illness, fog, mysterious lights, and strange symbols each have a part to play, alongside greed and opportunism. Can anyone be trusted? Could a demon be responsible for their misfortunes?

I had no idea where the novel was going to lead me, but I certainly enjoyed the journey. Another clever novel from Stuart Turton.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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