Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Darwin Conspiracy by John Darnton

Using real characters and basic events from history, John Darnton presents a fictionalized account of Darwin's family and how the theory of evolution really came to be. There's just enough made up adventure and intrigue to make this story completely engaging.

Hugh and Beth are present-day detectives trying to solve a mystery begun by Lizzie, Darwin's own daughter. Something has happened on the Beagle to riddle Darwin with so much guilt he's never fully healthy after returning home. Lizzie is quite a successful detective but so much time has passed that our present-day characters have to basically start from scratch. Through their discoveries, journal entries from Lizzie, an assortment of old letters, and an actual recount of the Beagle's excursion itself the mysteries unfold to tell a story that questions the choices Charles Darwin made aboard the ship. The variations in narrative style keep you in the moment no matter whether you're in the past or present. You feel like you're alongside all the characters piecing together the mystery yourself.

In addition to the focus on Darwin, the story also has Hugh solving a personal mystery of his own. Hugh's older brother, who has been put on his own pedestal, died tragically a while back - but was it actually an accident?

The juxtaposition of a historical figure with an average character, both having weaknesses in character revealed makes the entire story more personal. Hugh's brother could be anyone's family member and makes the novel something more than just a fictionalized history lesson.

The story is fast-paced and very entertaining with fully-formed characters to follow through history. You never feel like you're reading a piece of fiction. The plot is so cohesive in all its details that you do feel like you're reading an unknown piece of history and not just a novel. Worth a read for anyone who likes to be taken on an adventure.