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

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 Sandpit

The Sandpit by Nicholas Shakespeare is a bit of a slow burner but well worth persevering with.

John Dyer, an ex journalist, has returned from Brazil to Oxford with his son and enrolled him in the rep school that he had attended nearly 50 years ago. Life is dull and predictable in the middle class Oxford academic and school community until an Iranian, Rustum Marvar, parent entrusts John with the results of his research. When Marvar and his son disappear, the mystery unfolds at pace as different intelligence services and murky business interests encircle John and his son trying to find the potentially world changing secret.

The Sandpit is elegant, well observed and quite readable but overall a little unsatisfying.

3.5/5

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

The Riddle of the Fractal Monks

The Riddle of the Fractal Monks by Jonathan Pinnock is a quirky comedy mystery. It combines some psychopathic monks with a fascination for fractal mathematics with a hapless pair of heroes who seem to be immune to any of the ridiculous situations that they fond themselves encountering. They are all searching for a missing PhD thesis by a friend of the heroes, but really who cares?

I can’t think of a redeeming feature to this novel, apparently it is part of a series which I will avoid.

1/5

Crimson Lake

Crimson Lake by Candice Fox is set in a small town outside of Cairns in Northern Australia.

Ted Conkaffey is an ex police officer accused of abducting and assaulting a teenage girl, the prosecution was abandoned but he is never cleared of the crime that he denies. He moves to Crimson Lake in an attempt to restart his life. Amanda Pharrell runs a private investigations agency in Crimson Lake after her release from a 10 year sentence for the brutal murder of her friend. this unlikely pair of private detectives are trying to solve the mystery of a missing author while at the same time their personal back stories are unwinding.

This is a tense mystery thriller, right to the end you are uncertain of the guilt of the detectives or the fate of the author. Crimson Lake bowls along at a good pace, I liked the characters and the treatment of the alleged child abductor by the local vigilantes is thought provoking.

Well worth a read, there is a second novel planned with these characters which I will look out for.

4/5