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.