The Devil and the Dark Water Reviewed

I’d been really looking forward to reading Stuart Turton’s second novel, The Devil and the Dark Water.  I had found his first––The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle––a twisty tour de force, which seemed to almost defy writing.  What new fictional gymnastics would the author exhibit in his follow-up?  I started reading with expectations high.

And, perhaps, that was the problem.  If I had come to The Devil and the Dark Water completely anew, with no preconceptions, I would have enjoyed it as an inventive romp, running a gleefully knowing roughshod over the genres of crime, historical and fantasy fiction.  There were plenty of lively characters; an interesting backdrop of a 17th century Dutch Indiaman sailing the perilous high seas of the East Indies; enough mystery to keep me reading to the end; and a satisfactory conclusion.  What more could a reader want?

Except… I had those high expectations.  The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle had set the bar high and, for me, The Devil and the Dark Water felt like a bit of a belly-flop in comparison.  I didn’t ‘wow’ as I had done with Seven Deaths; didn’t experience the same sense of ‘how did he do that?’; wasn’t bowled over by any displays of virtuoso invention.

I wonder if I am being a little harsh in my assessment?  Have those high expectations clouded my judgment?  Is this really a case of sophomore slump? I feel a bit like a school teacher whose star pupil has delivered merely a very good rather than an excellent essay and, in my pique, I have awarded a C-, rather than the B+ it probably deserved.

Nevertheless, I can only say what I feel, and The Devil and the Dark Water left me feeling disappointed.  Throughout the book, frequent references are made to other fictional investigations that the lead character––Sammy Pipps––had undertaken, and I continually found myself wishing that I was reading one of those instead.

Make no mistake, I will still be looking forward to reading Stuart Turton’s third novel when it is published, but I will approach it with lower expectations.  And I will probably enjoy it more because of that.

© Fergus Longfellow

Fergus Longfellow is no stranger to a spot of virtuoso invention.

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