Book review: The Devil in the Dark Water

SPOILERS

As I very much enjoyed The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, I was super excited to read Stuart Turton’s next book. Okay, to be fair, the ending of 7 1/2 Deaths wasn’t ideal, but it’s a story in which whatever explanations comes up it will sound hokey. It’s just that kind of story. The Devil in the Dark Water, however, is different, more of straightforward whodunnit and set in an interesting period of time, the 1600s and on the high seas to boot.

The first half or so of the book was great, very good set up, etc., but I was disappointed that this very famous detective Samuel Pipps was barely a part of the story. The two characters who end up being the detectives, as Sammy is imprisoned, were sorta bland, if good people. There was some vibrancy lacking in their characters. The ending explained just why Sammy couldn’t be the detective in the mystery and that reveal was actually okay.

I don’t know much about sailing on the ocean, much less at that time in history, but it strained credulity to me that they ended up shipwrecked on just the island they were supposed to be shipwrecked on. This after a very long storm that the culprits couldn’t have known was coming. Also, I struggled picturing the world of the boat in my head. Some of the descriptions were fine, but I didn’t quite get how or where all the other passengers who weren’t the main nobles fit onto the boat. Perhaps in my head the ship was smaller than it actually is in the book. Also, by the end of the story, I was thinking more of the show Lost than that time period. The atmosphere had disappeared.

The ending ending. The answers to the mystery all made sense to some degree, but what did not make sense is that our upright heroes agree to form a secret society with the murderers to supposedly bring judgement on “bad” nobles. These people had just been betrayed by who they thought were their best friends. The “friends” they are going to collaborate in the future are untrustworthy to the extreme, and are also violent and dangerous. They have no problem harming the innocent in their desire to deal out “justice.” I found the ending bizarre and lacking in morality. Repulsive, even. Suddenly the main characters no longer seemed good, or any good. A society like this would be something to be afraid of. On the one hand we can all understand the idea of vigilante justice, but on the other, the reality of a world run that way would be terrifying. Robin Hood or Batman are fictional also, but these guys have rules. To some degree they do their stuff within the bounds of law and morality. With the people in this book, however, I shudder. It clearly struck me in reading the ending how much I did not care for any of the characters.

Sometimes it would be far better to simply end on a cliffhanger. And now I really want a smashing good detective story about Samuel Pipps, a good Sammy Pipps who’s like Sherlock, just in a different century.

Turton’s definitely got talent, but I think it’s difficult on the next book when the first one’s such a success. It’s like poor, M. Night Shyamalan trying to comeback after The Sixth Sense. Expectations are next to impossible. That being said, the ending was terrible and unlike, 7 1/2 Deaths, I do not recommend this book and it will not stay on my bookshelves.

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