Once again, it was the cover that drew me to this one – and the fact it was a historical thriller set on a ship. I’d also read many glowing reviews of The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, so I was delighted to be approved to read this one.
BLURB: 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…
REVIEW: This one starts with a wallop – a shocking incident occurs on the quayside as the ship is being loaded for the dangerous voyage back to Amsterdam, and we are immediately plunged into the reactions of the main protagonists who feature throughout the story. I wasn’t exactly floundering for the first few chapters, but I did flip back a couple of times to ensure that this wasn’t a second book – and I’m used to crashing midway into series. And then the pacing slowed up a bit as we learnt more about the passengers and what they are doing on the ship.
We have a number of crucial characters, as well as a number of bit players, so it did take a while to properly get going. But once it did, this was a tense read with plenty going on and danger oozing from the creaking timbers of the ship – which made an excellent locked room for this mystery, where no one could escape. It took me a while to fully bond with the main characters, given the large character cast and the fact that this is an action-led story, but I fully sympathised with poor Sara, married off to her father’s enemy and beaten and badly treated ever since. Arent was also better drawn than most of the other characters, and also had a fascinating backstory. I liked the fact that while looking like a brute whose size and strength guaranteed he always brought down the wrong sort of attention, he was in reality a thoughtful, idealistic and highly intelligent man.
Turton manages to mostly depict an impressive number of characters successfully, but I didn’t find Lia particularly convincing. We were told several times that her awkward habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time had caused problems in the past. But given that she’d been sequestered away by both parents most of her life, she seemed far too smart and savvy, particularly during the denouement. And while I appreciate that children during that era had to grow up fast, after all as a young teen, she was considered old enough for marriage – she seemed to be handling a very difficult situation with a tough-minded stoicism that most of the adults around her couldn’t muster.
That said, the denouement to this twisting tale of demons and devil worship is a solid pleasure to read, especially as Turton resisted the temptation to scurry through the necessarily complex explanation. He brought all the trailing threads together in a tour de force that provided me with a tingle of satisfaction that I don’t get all that often. Highly recommended for fans of historical thrillers. While I obtained an arc of The Devil and the Dark Water from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.