Murder disrupts a 17th-century East India Trading Company voyage in Turton’s The Devil and the Dark Water (Sourcebooks Landmark, Oct.).
How did the plot originate?
I was killing time in Perth and wound up in the Maritime Museum. They have an exhibition detailing a 1628 shipwreck. That story is brutal! After the ship was wrecked, the captain set off in a rowboat to get help, and while he was away the chief merchant butchered most of the passengers and crew. A soldier managed to rally the survivors and fight back, but not before many of them were slaughtered. It’s a horrible story, but it contains so much heroism and evil that it stuck with me. When I sat down to write my second book, I decided that would be a great launchpad.
What surprised you as you researched the Dutch East Indies?
That so much horror was perpetrated because of bland food. Back in 1634, paprika and pepper had to be shipped from the far side of the world, and wealthy people paid huge amounts of money for them. Imagine eating your boiled meat and vegetables, then somebody turning up with those tastes! It would blow your mind. For a time, spices were the gold or oil of their day. The people of the East Indies were sitting on a fortune, but they didn’t have the technology to exploit it. If history had taken another path, they’d have built vast empires off the back of the crops they owned. Instead, they were enslaved and exploited by the Western powers.
Do your novels share any themes?
I’m from a deprived town in the north of England, so wealth disparity seems to come up a lot in my writing, and I’m bothered by how we treat the poor and those who work in the service industry. I’m fascinated by unwilling detectives, and those who have impossible tasks thrust upon them. I enjoy Poirot and Holmes as characters, but I would have loved watching Hastings and Watson solve a case. Both are intelligent men made to feel like less than they are because of the genius standing next to them.
How has playing video games informed your storytelling?
I grew up playing video games. If I’m stuck in my plot and looking for a way to ratchet up tension or break a reveal, it’s as likely I’ll reach for a video game trope as one from books. I grew up playing adventure games, which often required you to play multiple characters to solve puzzles. Both my books have multiple characters solving a succession of puzzles until they reach the end. That’s not a coincidence.