The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
In the seventeenth century, the East India Trading Company has a tight grip on the world. Those who sail as merchants rule absolutely, and everyone who works for them is ruthless, amoral, and evil. Sailors, in turn, are the worst of people: those who cannot find work on land because of past misdemeanours. Superstition runs unfettered through everybody who travels by water. And into this month’s crime reads The Devil and the Dark Water sails, its captain ready to guide you whichever way he pleases.
The Saardam is on its way from Batavia (now Jakarta) to Amsterdam, its hold full of spices and cargo – both known and unknown. Even before it leaves port, a leper with no tongue curses the ship and bursts into flames. But the ship’s master is not swayed. Jan Haan, the Governor-General of Batavia, sails home with a plan for glory and a family he abuses. His wife, Sara, is used to restrictive confines. His daughter, Lia, knows how to hide her true self. His mistress, Creesjie, is there to keep him happy. Then there are the soldiers, the musketeers, the sailors, the nobles – a cast of characters that fill your reading room with their voices. Prominent among them are human mountain Arent Hayes and pre-Sherlock Sammy Pipps, both detectives of great repute – until Pipps is thrown unceremoniously into a tiny cell on the Saardam for a crime nobody knows anything about.
As the curse works its way through the ship, with unholy miracles apparently occurring under the doomed auspices of a mysterious demon named Old Tom, the entire vessel becomes a wretched place of filth and bitterness, fear and confusion, and soon nobody expects to survive the trip. Sara and Arent, united in a quest for justice, will do all they can to figure out what is going on, and readers will be right there with them: the deck creaking underneath your feet, the storms battering your porthole, the world swaying as you read through the book’s twisting plot, your life in Stuart Turton’s hands. Revel in it, and don’t sleep without a candle lit. You never know who might be whispering in the shadows.