The Darwin Affair

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 25 Jun 2019

Member Reviews

Full review forthcoming........................................................................................................................................
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This book was not quite for me, though I can see where it might be the right read for others. If you enjoy Netflix shows about serial killers, for instance. THE DARWIN AFFAIR is a compellingly if sometimes confusingly written Victorian-era thriller, following a conspiracy that involves, directly or obliquely, Prince Albert to Karl Marx. That historical aspect of the book was interesting. Sometimes it felt like the book needed annotations, to keep the reader abreast of all the 19th-century allusions and cameos, but on the whole, the concept is cleverly assembled. I could have done with less time spent in the intimate atrocities of the epicly deranged serial killer whose actions form the thrust of the plot. That’s personal preference in part, but it’s also down to the pacing of the book, which has the effect that character deaths just feel like more blood painting the walls rather than having real emotional impact. The book also fell down for me in its female characters, who are an assortment of Dickensian stereotypes. Maybe by design, but if so, it’s not a design I care for. That said, I can see where this book would appeal to a certain kind of reader, and I’ll be glad to put it in their hands when I have the opportunity.
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The Darwin Affair begins with assassination attempt on Queen Victoria and Albert, the Prince Consort. Those in power believe this to be the work of one mentally ill man. Detective Inspector Charles Field sees it otherwise. Field begins to piece together a puzzle that leads him to a connection with Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, and involves some of the most prominent and power men in the Empire.

A great read!! This story grabbed me from the beginning, and had me racing right along with it. It was intricately plotted with multiple twists, but was never confusing. It also touched on many of the injustices and horrors of life in Victorian England, and did so in a way that made it integral to the plot.

The characters were fascinating. There are appearances by prominent real life individuals of the day, Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, and many other men of science, government, commerce, and religion. But it was the obscure individuals, the maids, mudlarks, butcher boys, and police sergeants who peopled the story that really kept me captivated. 

Mr. Mason has written a story filled with striking period detail, riddled with dry humor, and several twists. I was riveted from the beginning, and think you will be too.

My thanks to NetGalley and Algonquin Press for the advance copy of this book for my review.
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In 1860 London a madman, with encouragement from opponents of Charles Darwin, attempts to assassinate a member of the Royal family. The detective assigned to investigate the case is none other than Chief Detective Inspector Charles Field, the real-life inspiration for the Dickens character Inspector Bucket. My appetite for the fantastic, bizarre, and depraved is limited, but somehow it just seems to suit the Victorian era, and with ingredients of personages like Charles Darwin and Karl Marx, accented by notes of Charles Dickens, Tim Mason has created a dish I really savored.
The plot takes off with the dramatic assassination attempt and never slows down, but Mason was not content simply to tell a good tale and enriches the story in a number of ways. First of all, he peopled it with real historic persons. In addition to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, there are Karl Marx, Sir Richard Owen, Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, and other luminaries from the period. There was even an echo of a young Irish-American person who wreaked some havoc in our country…but I don’t want to insert any spoilers. Since Charles Field was Dickens’ model for his character Inspector Bucket, Mason cleverly capitalized on that connection in several ways. I am a big fan of Charles Dickens, and the Dickens influence permeates the whole book. In addition to the era in which it is set, the plot is twisty in ways that I think Dickens would admire, and there is a cadre of ragtag children and quirky characters who would be right at home in a Dickens novel.
Mason is primarily a playwright, and I think this background has enriched his writing. The book developed very much through well-done dialogue. It is easy to imagine the vividly described scenes as a backdrop to a dramatization. I can see the PBS special now! Or maybe a major motion picture.
I only have one small quibble. Clever as it is, what makes it really special is the presence of real persons, like Prince Albert, Sir Richard Owen, and even Charles Field. From time to time I would stop to fact-check and found many details to be accurate, like the fact that Prince Albert’s stepmother died in 1860. I certainly don’t think there was a real historical conspiracy to kill Prince Albert in reaction against his admiration of Charles Darwin, and the real Charles Field retired in 1852, before the events in this novel. Many readers like me would really appreciate an Afterword telling us in general terms where the book departs from real history. For example, did Victoria and Albert really take the trip to Germany described in the book, and was there an international meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1860 in Oxford to discuss evolution? One of the side benefits of reading historical fiction is the history we pick up along the way, and I would like to know what knowledge I can carry away in addition to the enjoyment of a fine book.
The Darwin Affair is a thrilling suspense tale that will tempt you to race through for the story alone, but slow down long enough to enjoy the writer’s craft
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This cinematic debut novel takes readers deep into mid-Victorian times through masterly use of period details and believable mingling of historic and fictional characters and events. After shots are fired at Queen Victoria's carriage, police personnel on the case include Inspector Field, a minor -- and very reluctant -- London celebrity, due to novelist Charles Dickens having used him as a model for the memorable Bleak House character Inspector Bucket. Field's investigation into the attempted assassination becomes a desperate attempt to persuade England's highest powers that a bizarre conspiracy is at work, involving multiple murders, dismemberments, kidnapping, and grave robbing, all centered around an obsessive hatred of the controversial theories of evolutionist Charles Darwin. Not even dismissal from the force and threats to his family can stop Field from pursuing his  hunches to a violent and terrifying series of outcomes in confrontation with brilliant, psychotic Decimus Cobb, a frightening villain worthy of this thriller's twisting, page-turning plot. Note: The publisher suppled an advance reading copy via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
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After the attempted assassination of the Queen followed by the murder of a young street criminal London’s detective, Mr. Field, is determined to find the killer, or killers.  Meanwhile, a group of well-known men from England’s upper and professional classes  gather secretly to plot an end to the praise of Charles Darwin’s theories, which have become renowned after the publication of On the Origin of Species , and not to mention admired by Prince Albert.  The villain, Decimus Cobb, is a meticulous killer, a collector of body parts, and well-known local surgeon.  His household is a menagerie of unique, strange characters that pull you into the story even deeper as Cobb’s personal background unfolds.  The Darwin Affair captivated me so much due to many factors: the deeply disturbing Cobb, the use of historical figures throughout the story(Darwin, Dickens, Fitzroy, Marx), the likeable and despicable cast of characters that Mr. Field and Cobb cross paths with, and the hope that good wins over evil in the end.  Readers who enjoy a unique mix of historical fiction with real people from the past, detective mysteries, horror, and suspense should delight in Mason’s first novel and yearn for another installment when it ends.
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This exciting debut novel by playwright Mason, is a welcome addition to historical thrillers. Set in Victorian England, the main character, Detective Charles Fields, is the basis Charles Dickens “Bucket”. He believes that there is a conspiracy to murder Prince Albert and must convince his superiors as well as the Prince. Traveling from the underbelly of London to the dons of Oxford and a dangerous trip across Europe with the Queen and Prince, Fields must nab the villain before it is too late. 

This engrossing page turner includes a cast of characters from a villainous serial killer, a butcher’s apprentice, Darwin, Dickens and a cameo by Karl Marx. Mason’s tenacious detective drives the plot through unforeseen twists and turns, doggedly on the trail of the killer. The novel believably weaves historical events and characters throughout the plot, creating a thriller you won’t be able to put down.
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Charles Darwin has published his seminal work,.  Some see genius in it, others blasphemy. Prince Albert sees genius, which he believes should be rewarded.  After a failed assassination attempt, the real life detective after whom Charles Dickens fashioned his Charlie Bucket finds himself in charge of a case that threatens all he holds dear.
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Lots of “based in fact” people and events are found in this historical novel.  Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Typhoid Mary, and Inspector Charles Field all combine with one very wicked killer who is out to stop the wave of support for Darwin’s new theory of evolution.  The appropriate atmosphere and societal norms are accurately presented for 1860 London.  The characters are mostly well-drawn, especially Inspector Field.  He arrives at conclusions that others think are crazy, similar to Sherlock Holmes. It was frustrating for me to read how little the police were respected at the time, and how little power they had to solve crimes, especially if high society patrons are involved.

I wanted to love this novel, but I ended up merely liking it.  I thought it rambled a little in spots, and went on too long until the final resolution.
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In “The Darwin Affair” author Tim Mason brings together historical fiction, mystery, action suspense, and modern commentary. I found the interaction of real life characters like Charles Dickens with one of his supposed muses ( especially in answering the question: how does the real life detective live his life while seen by the reading public as a popular character?). 

My major problem with this story is the presence of the all powerful villain. I find it hard to appreciate the story telling and plot lines/twists when the bad guy continually is two steps ahead, gets knocked down ( or run over by a train) and manages to keep popping up. The lead good guy in the meantime seems too slow on the uptake to solve the case much less inspire Dickens’ fictional detective.
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Cannot rate this book high enough, just a really great story, well told with fascinating and complex characters. Darwin. Dicken's, Reverend Wilberforce, Victoria and Albert, and Dectective Fields or as Dicken's called him "Inspector Bucket". Who is killing people in London and cutting off their ears? Is it related to Charles Darwin and his new theory of evolution or is it somehow connected to Prince Albert or even the Queen? All Detective Bucket knows is that there is evil loose in London with some highly connected people involved. If you like well done historical mysteries this book is just for you, really good.
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I set this aside after reading about 10% of it. It just didn't hold my attention; the characters were not interesting.
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Tim Mason takes his readers back into the England of Queen Victoria in a period around the 1860's.  He brings to vibrant life a London riff with dirt, filth, crime and disease.  Charles Darwin has recently returned from his five year voyage on H.M.S. Beagle and as a result of his studies and observations had published the very controversial "Origin Of the Species."  His claim was that nature assured the survival of creatures that developed the strongest adaptation of those skills necessary to survive in a competitive world.  His views conflicted with those of many people that subscribed to the notion that man was made in God's image.  It was therefore, blasphemy to consider that humans were evolutionary descendants of apes.
     At the same time the author Charles Dickens had created Chief Detective Bucket in his novel "Bleak House"  It was thought that Inspector Bucket was modeled after a real life police officer named Charles Field.  The Darwin Affair begins with an attempted assassination of Queen Victoria and her husband the Prince Consort Albert. Field in assigned to protect the royal couple and becomes involved with many of the events described.
     The story brings into play a kidnapping of a butcher's boy and what happens to him, a ring of men that rob graves in order to sell the corpses to medical schools and a visit of Prince Albert with Victoria to his native Bavaria.  Mr Mason also presents the person of a woman that became known as Typhoid Mary to later generations of medical students.  Mary was thought to be a carrier of a recessed gene for Typhoid infecting all she came in contact with but never showing symptoms herself.
     The author has taken great care in researching the events portrayed and the settings in which they take place. Conversations attributed to the characters have carefully been formulated to ring true to the more formal manner of speaking at the time.  A rewarding read with the consequent portrait of the period being looked at and one that will cause readers to seek out future books by Tim Mason.
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Expectations were that "The Darwin Affair" would read somewhat like a good Sherlock Holmes story. The language and setting certainly justified that. In the story the protagonist is continually compared to a Charles Dickens police character. Sherlock Holmes, however, clearly was quick to see clues and get to the action of finding the evil-doer. This story tends to drag on and borders on boring.
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Tim Mason has written a engrossing, enticing and engaging historical mystery.  It will be the perfect read for fans of Lyndsay Faye and Caleb Carr. We will be buying for our library.
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