The Devil and the Dark Water

Sourcebooks Landmark. Oct. 2020. 480p. ISBN 9781728206028. $26.99. M
In 1634, seven ships of the Dutch East India Company set sail for a home laden with pepper, mace, spices, and silk. The governor-general of Dutch Batavia sails on the Saardam, along with his family and mistress. A renowned thief-taker is aboard too, but in chains. He’s been arrested but nobody knows why. From the start, tension abounds. The murderous crew hates the guards, who are there to protect them in case of pirate attack. The governor-general abuses his wife. Passengers pursue hidden agendas. Signs and menaces happen with disturbing frequency. Before they depart, a leper with no tongue speaks to them in warning, then bursts into flames. A devil’s sign is inscribed on a sail. Voices whisper in the darkness. A ship follows the fleet at night but vanishes when searched for. In succession come two murders, a near-deadly knife fight, a theft. The governor-general is found stabbed to death in a sealed room. Mutiny and shipwreck follow. Everything’s sorted out in the end, but it’s a long twisty journey getting there.
VERDICT Blended with elements of mystery and high seas adventure, Turton’s second book (after The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle) is an enjoyable throwback to the exaggeratedly intellectual plotting of Golden Age crime fiction, not terribly believable but great fun to read.

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