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 rife 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 is 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. Mason also presents the woman who 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 this author.
6/19 Paul Lane
THE DARWIN AFFAIR by Tim Mason. Algonquin Books; 1 edition (June 11, 2019). ISBN 978-1616206345. 384p.