‚Captain,‘ persisted Isabel. ‚What’s the dark water?
‚It’s what old sailors call the soul,‘ answered Van Schooten, from the opposite end of the table. ‚They reckon our sins lie beneath it like wrecks on the ocean bed. Dark water is our soul, and Old Tom is swimming within it.‘
A murder mystery set on a ship in the 17th century with intriguing characters and a promising idea that does not unravel as magnificently as expected: everything is just what you expect it to be.
Now, I don’t read whodunnits very often. I’ve read a couple of Sherlock Holmes stories at school, and I’ve seen every single episode of Castle – and that’s my whole experience with solving murder mysteries, so I don’t consider myself an expert, mind you. However, I was able to solve this thing here after about one third of the book. So I’m either a criminal mastermind or this book isn’t a good murder mystery. While I hope it’s the first one, I guess the latter is true.
But let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Basically, it’s all in the description: Sherlock Holmes, who’s called Sammy Pipps here, is himself being accused of a vile crime which is why he spends the entire journey aboard this ship locked away. So when a murder happens, his assistant has to rise up to the challenge and solve the case himself, with only the little bit of help he can get from the detective in the small time periods of night where he’s allowed to talk to him. The assistant manages to get an assistant himself who is the beautiful, unwilling wife of the master of everyone around, so obviously there’s a romance in the making.
Anyway, these two take a look into that murder case while all sorts of mischief breaks out on the ship – mischief for which a devil called Old Tom seems to be responsible. So the reader gets to wonder whether this is a good old whodunnit or if there are supernatural powers involved.
There’s of course a big set of characters who could be responsible for the atrocities committed aboard the ship – the thing is, all of them were just what you expect them to be, just like this story that went exactly where I expected it to go. And, well, a whodunnit that lets you know whodunnit pretty early if you notice certain hints and clues just isn’t a gripping read anymore. What stopped me even more from truly immersing with this story was the whole way it was told: lots of very short chapters from changing perspectives. Every time chapters end/begin, I tend to make a short pause to reflect on what’s happening and to wonder where it all will end up, so…there were a LOT of breaks for me in this one. Which is why the story couldn’t capture me the way it could’ve done when the chapters had been longer.
The writing focuses a lot on the plot and the characters – there’s lots of dialogue and very few descriptions of the setting in my opinion, which also didn’t help me get immersed into the world of the ship. But maybe I’m just too spoilt, because the book I’ve read that took place on a ship was Red Seas Under Red Skies and that was just awesome. Also, I didn’t get a lot of stuff I was hoping for when reading a story on a ship. To elaborate on that might include spoilers, so I won’t say more on that.
What also hugely irritated me was the pacing of some parts of it: it’s mostly a thriller with detailed descriptions of what everyone does the entire day, so I was really disturbed by the scenes where suddenly whole weeks were written in off in a single sentence and the action apparently just was on hiatus. And, er, the ending. Just no. It left me massively dissatisfied. I was not okay with how things were finished at all. To me, it felt unjust, and the characters‘ reactions to those responsible didn’t fit with their nature and the way they had acted in this book at all.
So all in all, I was disappointed by this one. I was expecting some big twist to happen to prove me wrong, but everything turned out the way I expected it to…three stars.