‘The Satan and the Darkish Water’: How Stuart Turton’s newest murder-mystery was impressed by a ghoulish shipwreck

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Sometimes inspiration can strike and stay in the strangest places. The English writer Stuart Turton was already traveling on the west coast of Australia in 2003 and was considering whether to continue his travels to Asia. It was in Perth’s Maritime Museum, which covers the history of the Batavia, a merchant ship that was wrecked on a nearby coral island in the 17th century. Of the 341 passengers, 40 drowned trying to swim ashore and another 125 died – not from malnutrition but because they started killing each other.

“It’s a brutal story,” says Turton with a nervous chuckle. “I couldn’t have written this story – it’s too awful.”

So the Castaways murder was too much, even for an award-winning author of books about weird murders?

“I’m writing about happy death,” he protests. “Well, at least funny, fast-paced crime novels. But the idea of ​​a haunted house at sea in the 17th century – that seemed like something worth pursuing. “

It took 17 years, but The Devil and the Dark Water was eventually released. And the book is quite an adventure.

“The Devil and the Dark Waters” by Stuart Turton. Bloomsbury

The Dutch East India Company has recalled the Governor General of Batavia (now Jakarta) to Amsterdam. He brings his wife Sara and a colorful crew in his tight galleon, as well as a mysterious object, The Folly. The embarrassed and tied detective Samuel Pipps and his bodyguard Arent are also on board.

Before long, strange events began to weigh on the trip. Voices in the dark, apparent demons and superstition infest everyone on board. There is a murder in a locked room … and reluctant heroes can save the day.

It’s great fun, an extremely entertaining and haunting sequel to its bestselling debut The seven deaths of Evelyn HardcastleTurton, who previously worked as a travel journalist in Dubai, admitted he’d taken up all of his headspace by 2018. And if Seven deaths was a modern version of a novel by Agatha Christie, The devil and the dark water has more than one nod to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes secrets, with (at least) one crucial twist: the Holmes style is in chains in this case.

“It would not have been two hours for Poirot to solve puzzles in this book,” says Turton. “The thing is, I don’t have the total love for Holmes that I do for Poirot; I find Holmes repulsive because he mostly treats the people around him like fools. I mean, Watson is a war hero and Lestrade is the head of the leading police force in the world! “

I want readers to feel like they are in the book and offer as much sensory information as possible

Author Stuart Turton

So in The devil and the dark waterIt’s the ugly, brutal (but ultimately rather gentle) buddy Arent who is the unwilling protagonist. Sara unexpectedly becomes the driving force behind the investigation. “It’s about people who are minor characters in their own lives,” says Turton. Bringing these characters to the fore was just as surprising for him when writing as it was for her in the story.

When it comes to a book like this, which is basically a puzzle to be solved, the plot has to be to convince people with their inner workings, make decisions, and solve puzzles because they are. You don’t want someone to keep showing up and giving them clues.

“In this case, I found the fact that these people were on these ships in the first place fascinating. I mean, they were all clearly running away from something, they had no guarantee that they would ever get where they wanted … Taking a trip like this was an act of courage and desperation; In some ways a strange, adventurous death sentence. “

Those extra layers – there are also some nuanced reflections on trade and the politics of capitalism – really set Turton’s bestsellers apart. Combined with the little nods to all the tropics that readers love of an adventure like this; Twists, constant revelations, and the high-speed action – it’s a rare feat to leave a 550-page novel almost breathless in its desire to please it.

Turton is the first to admit that people who want a Hilary Mantel-style historical novel appreciate Mantel, but research and dedication to character and location gives The Devil and the Dark Water a thick atmosphere and sense of place. Some of them, Turton says, date from his time in Dubai.

“When I wrote Seven DeathsLike everyone who reads it, if I did it again, I was stuck in a damp house, ”he says. “So with The devil and the dark water I was so happy that I could move my characters, have different weather and different smells. That was all of my travel journalism. My time in Dubai, for example, would remind me how heat has a certain smell.

“I want readers to feel like they are in the book and offer as much sensory information as possible. I know what a wharf in Jakarta would look like: the spices, the air, the hiss of a food market. “

Some of those senses were woke up when he returned to Dubai earlier this year – this time as a successful headline writer at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature and not as a journalist.

“You know, it was really nice,” he recalls. “It really meant something to be back in Dubai as a writer, like getting through the tape at the end of the race.”

Updated: October 8, 2020, 9:15 a.m.

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