The Devil and the Dark Water

The Devil and the Dark Water is Stuart Turton’s second novel, it follows the widely acclaimed The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Turton really does have a different take on historical crime fiction, combining gothic and fantasy in an intriguing fashion.

The Devil and the Dark water is set aboard a cargo ship in the 17th century travelling from the Batavia (Jakarta) to Amsterdam. Think Conan Doyle meets Agatha Christie. The hero, Arent, is a Watson-like character while his Holmes is locked in the belly of the ship, an apparently dead leper (not a rock band) is roaming the ship, murdering people and terrorising the passengers and crew. The heroine, Sara, has of course fallen for Arent but how will she escape from her bullying husband? It’s a complex crime mystery, none of the characters are what they appear to be and every time you think you can see where it is going there is another elegant twist.

I enjoyed this very much, Stuart Turton has now written two very original novels and has definitely got me hooked. More please.

4/5

V2

I like Robert Harris’ historical novels, they are well researched, bring the characters to life and are an easy read. V2 is set at the end of WW2 as the SS step up the launches of V2 rockets at London in a last endeavour to turn the tide of the war.

Rudi Graf is a rocket scientist and engineer working at the missile launch site in occupied Holland. The narrative flashes back to his youth and his friendship with Wernher von Braun and their shared passion for rockets and space travel.

Kay Caton-Walsh is a WAAF officer posted to Belgium as part of desperate attempt to find the launch sites and destroy them by reverse calculating the path of the V2s as they launch and subsequently land in London.

While Graf is increasingly doubting the morality and sanity of his masters, the British realise that their operation in Belgium may be compromised.

V2 is not Harris’ best novel (my favourites are the Cicero trilogy) but if you like the minutiae of WW2 military stuff then you will enjoy this.

3/5

Chaos

There’s a lot of historical crime and spy fiction about at the moment – CJ Sansom, SG Maclean, CS Quinn and SJ Parris to name a few that I have enjoyed. I wonder why all of these authors choose to use both initials rather than their first names?

Chaos, the second novel by AD Swanston is a worthy addition to the list. Set in Elizabethan London, Dr Christopher Radcliffe (the Earl of Leicesters chief Intelligencer) is struggling to uncover the source of counterfeit coins that are causing panic and riot within the city. Strange messages start to appear on the walls of the city and then plague crosses are daubed on doors. Chaos is very close but Radcliffe and his informers are getting no closer to finding out who is responsible or why.

At the same time Radcliffe’s slightly unusual personal life is unravelling, his housekeeper is in Newgate accused of witchcraft and his paramour abandons him.

Chaos is very good, a pacy read with fascinating detail about Elizabethan London and politics.

4/5

The House of Lamentations

The House of Lamentations is the 5th in Shona Maclean’s much praised Seeker series.

It’s 1658, Damian Seeker is living under cover in Bruges keeping tabs on the royalist followers of the exiled King Charles who are scheming to restore Charles to the thrown. Meanwhile in London the Protector, Cromwell, is in the last days of his life and all around him are preparing for a power shift and a new leader.

The royalists have discovered that there is a spy within their midst they have no idea who it is and send their own spy to spy on Seeker’s spy. Complicated? Yes but Maclean weaves a complex plot around these characters while providing a fascinating and detailed understanding of life in 17th century Bruges and the politics of England and Europe.

The House of Lamentations is historical fiction at it’s very best. The publisher says this is the last in the series. I hope not!

4.5/5

The Sin Eater

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi is very definitely different. Set in a version of Elizabethan England that has dystopian hints of the Handmaid’s Tale, the story is told by May Owens, who is the Sin Eater.

Sin Eaters hear the sins of others and then eat foods associated with each different sin, they carry those sins with them to the grave and relieve the sinner of the fear of dying and being cast into some form of hell with Eve rather than going to their Maker. It is a cruel world where the burden of being the city’s Sin Eater and a social outcast is imposed on women by the mail judges as a way of exercising power and revenge.

May discovers a plot to kill the Queen, a mystery about her own parentage and eventually realises her own agency and independence.

After a slightly slow start The Sin Eater is a compelling read well worth persevering with. I think this is Campisi’s first novel, I hope she writes more.

4/5

Elementary

When I was in my early teens I devoured every bit of the Sherlock Holmes opus, all 4 novels and the 5 collections of short stories. In fact I think I read most of them twice! Since then I have read a few attempts to extend the series, some have worked quite well (e.g. The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz) and some have fallen short.

Elementary by William Todd comprises “4 mysteries from the case files of Sherlock Holmes” which Dr Watson had not published. It didn’t work for me, it felt formulaic and somewhat predictable. To be honest I couldn’t bring myself to read all 4 of the stories, 2 were more than enough!

Unless you have read and remember all of the original Conan Doyle stories you might do better to go back to the originals and even if you do remember them I would still rather read the originals again than these wooden homages.