The Darwin Affair, by Tim Mason

Eight stars

Tim Mason’s debut novel has all the ingredients for a success. The piece of historical fiction mixes the Victorian Era with the battle over creation versus evolution, peppering in a spree of heinous crimes that shock the general public. Wonderfully executed, Mason is sure to make waves should he have more ideas to share in the coming years. The year is 1860 and Detective Inspector Charles Field has a plum job with the Metropolitan Police, protecting Her Majesty Queen Victoria at a time when many have tried to take her life. When Field sees a local pickpocket along the route, he stops to arrest him, only to be waylaid from the real threat down the road. After shots are fired, the royal couple are safe and the attempted assassin is apprehended, but Prince Albert has nothing but harsh words for Field. Returning to deal with his original arrestee, Field sees that the boy has been killed and mutilated, which indicates a cover-up and likely conspiracy in the plot to kill the queen. In Oxford, an important intellectual debate will soon take place on the subject of Charles Darwin’s recent publication, On the Origin of Species. Church-folk are armed and ready to defend the miracle of God’s work, while the scientific community is coming around to accept and understand the basic argument of evolution. In the shadows, a killer lurks and has begun targeting people by brutally attacking them and remove an odd appendage. They will not be able to do this alone and so a young butcher’s apprentice is brought along to learn a new trade. While DI Field tries to get to the heart of the royal assassination attempt, he runs afoul of the highest-up within the Met and finds himself relieved of his duties. However, that does not dampen his desire to get to the core of what is going on, both with the royal couple and these horrific murders. Tracing a plot to strike again while Victoria and Albert are on the continent, Field will have to work quickly and locate the killer who appears to be hiding in plain sight. What reason would anyone have to want the royal couple dead and how can it be stopped before it’s too late? An exciting debut thriller that kept me reading well into the night to piece it all together. Recommended to those who love historical mysteries, as well as the reader who finds the mix of crime and science to be entertaining.

It was a random scanning of my Libby app that brought this book to my attention (proof positive that technology and the traditional library can be useful) and I am pleased that they did just that. Tim Mason’s book has everything a reader could need to become fully ensconced with a story until the final pages. Detective Inspector Charles Field proves to be a wonderful protagonist in this piece, able to cobble together the conspiracy while ruffling many feathers within the Met. He is said to be the real-life inspiration for Charles Dickens’ Detective Bucket, something that many people comment upon throughout the novel. At a time when police work is all about locating clues and using one’s intuition, Field does just that, skating a thin line when it comes to insubordination at times. Field is a loving husband, but also shows himself to be married to his work, even when it takes him into the most dangerous situations. There is a little backstory offered here, as well as a decent amount of character development, whetting the appetite of the reader in case there are more novels to come. Mason adds a number of key supporting characters, both those plucked from the history books of the time and others who are completely fictitious. All of those who grace the pages of this novel bring interesting perspectives to the larger narrative, be it on the subject of murder, royalty, or even the Darwinian commentary that serves as an underlying thread throughout. Mason effectively balances all his plots into the larger story and keeps the reader curious as the narrative gains momentum. The story was sound and handles a few subjects quite effectively. Mid-century England is full of change and inquisitive minds, all of which helps support a mystery that is not entirely straightforward. Mason uses his skill to weave a tale and yet forces the reader to wonder until the culminating reveal, where the pieces finally fall into place. This was surely one of those surprise novels that worked so well for me. I will be on the lookout for more by Tim Mason, as well as others who write within this genre.

Kudos, Mr. Mason, for a book I am sure to talk about for weeks to come. You have great talent and I hope others discover this book to share the excitement in brought me.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: