The Darwin Affair
Get ready for one of the most inventive and entertaining novels of 2019—an edge-of-your-seat Victorian-era thriller, where the controversial publication On the Origin of Species sets off a string of unspeakable crimes.
London, June 1860: When an assassination attempt is made on Queen Victoria, and a petty thief is gruesomely murdered moments later—and only a block away—Chief Detective Inspector Charles Field quickly surmises that these crimes are connected to an even more sinister plot. Was Victoria really the assassin’s target? Are those closest to the Crown hiding something? And who is the shadowy figure witnesses describe as having lifeless, coal-black eyes?
Soon, Field’s investigation exposes a shocking conspiracy in which the publication of Charles Darwin’s controversial On the Origin of Species sets off a string of murders, arson, kidnapping, and the pursuit of a madman named the Chorister. As the investigation takes Field from the dangerous alleyways of London to the hallowed halls of Oxford, the list of possible conspirators grows, and the body count escalates. And as he edges closer to the Chorister, he uncovers dark secrets that were meant to remain forever hidden.
Praise For The Darwin Affair: A Novel…
—The Wall Street Journal
“A perfect addition to your summer reading list. Fast-paced and lively, this page-turner would appeal to fans of Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”
“An audacious historical thriller . . . The intelligent plot features prominent figures of the time, including Karl Marx . . . and Charles Darwin, whose heretical theory of evolution has unsettled some very powerful men. Wry prose and vivid period detail help make Mason’s speculations feel plausible.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Readers of historical fiction, murder mysteries, action/adventure and thrillers will be equally entertained and perhaps edified: beneath the excitement lie thought-provoking questions about class and order, the interplay of science and religion and intellectual curiosity. The Darwin Affair has it all: thrills, engrossing characters, taut pacing and historical interest.”
“Mason’s Dickensian London, layered with gritty, horror-tinged period details and the imaginative interweaving of Typhoid Mary and the underworld’s grave-robbing industry, provides a rare time-traveling experience for historical-mystery readers. The novel shares the edgy appeal of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and Louis Bayard’s Mr. Timothy.”
—Booklist, starred review
“While readers cheer for Inspector Field, a true-life detective and friend of Charles Dickens, they will inadvertently learn a smattering of history—and enjoy every second of it. Author Tim Mason makes it fun. He writes with authenticity and knows precisely how to keep his audience on the edge of their seats. Oh, and just when you believe he’s about to wrap it up, get comfortable, because he has a whole lot more action in store.”
“With many grisly murders and many shocking surprises along the way, the book rockets toward a last dark twist. Careful research, a driving plot, wry wit, and compelling characters make this a most entertaining read.”
“Set in Victorian era London, Tim Mason’s The Darwin Affair is a fantastic and original historical thriller. In fact, this is one of the best thrillers I’ve read in years.”
“The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason . . . set in Victorian England of the 1860s . . . grabs the reader and tosses him or her into the middle of an assassination attempt of the Royals—Queen Victoria and Prince Albert . . . [T]he plot unfolds in an exciting dash to save Prince Albert, and bring Decimus Cobb . . . easily the most frightening antagonist since Hannibal Lecter . . . to justice.”
—New York Journal of Books
“This clever, yeasty detective yarn is like a runaway hansom cab that pauses just long enough to take on passengers ranging from Darwin to Dickens before hurtling onward. It's a grand ride, a serious education and a delightful addiction.”
—Louis Bayard, author of Courting Mr. Lincoln
“An engaging historic mystery.”
“It’s London 1860, and an assassination attempt has been made on Queen Vict
Algonquin Books, 9781616206345, 384pp.
Publication Date: June 11, 2019
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. In his 1852 novel Bleak House, Charles Dickens created a detective called Inspector Bucket who was widely thought to be based on Charles Field, a historical London policeman. The fictional Charles Field in The Darwin Affair seems plagued by the fame thrust upon him by Dickens. In what ways might celebrity have become a burden for Field? For anyone?
2. The reactions to the initial publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species ranged from vehement condemnation to the highest praise. Is it surprising that there was not universal condemnation of it in 1859, but some acceptance, even among prominent churchmen? We’ve now lived with the theory of evolution for 160 years, and it is accepted by a vast majority of scientists as fact. Is it surprising that Darwin’s findings still provoke outrage? Why might this be so?
3. Inspector Charles Field and his wife, Jane Field, often address each other in conversation as Mr. and Mrs.; this was a Victorian convention. But their relationship isn’t defined by the seeming formality of their address. How would you describe the relationship?
4. There have been many recent film and television depictions of Queen Victoria and Albert, the Prince Consort. How do these square with the relationship as described in The Darwin Affair? How would you describe the marriage of these two very different people?
5. On the opposite end of the social scale from the royal family is Tom Ginty, butcher’s apprentice. He’s snatched and put in a box. How does this affect the chemistry of the story? How does his mother deal with his disappearance? How do you?
6. The author has included many historical persons in the novel, from Victoria and Albert, to Karl Marx and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, to Charles Darwin and his wife, Emma. Sir Richard Owen was also a historical person, and although he did not really conspire to assassinate anyone, he was notorious for his malice and a propensity to claim the ideas of others as his own. How do you feel about using real-life persons from history in this manner? Is it fair for an author to do this? What liberties may, or may not, be taken?
7. In June of 1860 Karl Marx was indeed suffering from liver pains, as his character complains in the book. Tim Mason learned this fact by reading Marx’s letters while doing research for this novel; he also read some of Queen Victoria’s letters. How else might a novelist seek to learn day-to-day details from a historical subject’s past?
8. Decimus Cobb is a complex character, to put it mildly. More than one critic has compared him to Hannibal Lecter of Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs. Is he a monster? The fictional Charles Darwin says to Field, “I disbelieve in monsters. But I have found ordinary nature to be insupportably cruel, often enough.” What emotions does Decimus evoke? Fear? Revulsion? Curiosity?
9. The world’s response to the work of Darwin was echoed on an intimate scale by the relationship between Charles and his beloved wife, Emma. His masterwork became her sorrow, and yet they remained a steadfast, loving couple, and devoted parents to their many children. Are there clues in The Darwin Aff air as to how they navigated these complexities?
10. We glimpse another complex relationship in the love aff air between the young Oxford undergraduates David Gates and Jack Callow. The term homosexuality did not come into existence until about forty years after the time period of the book, nor did the concept exist as we think of it today. Can you speculate on how these two might have defined their relationship?