by Timothy Mason
Charles Dickens introduced the police detective Mr. Bucket in his Bleak House. Bucket was based on the real life Chief Detective Inspector Charles Field, the central character in Tim Mason’s The Darwin Affair. Field assigned to guard Queen Victoria and Prince Albert during a public appearance, witnesses an assassination attempt. Field suspects that the attempt was not being made on the queen but on Albert because of his support of Charles Darwin and his newly published The Origin of the Species. The book is filled with actual historical personages many of them acting as the story’s villains. In Decimus Cobb, a former church choirboy, it also has one of the most psychopathic killers to be found in literature. Hannibal Lector is a Sunday school teacher compared to Cobb. After each scene with Cobb I wanted to take a shower to wash off the psychological slime he left behind. Chief Detective Inspector Field is confronted by disbelief because of his conspiracy theory, but after a series of nasty murders finally convinces Prince Albert of the danger he faces. The story is well paced, the characters well drawn and memorable. The book is well researched and historically accurate. Mason intersperses the conspiracies, abuses, and murders with touches of humor to offset the fear and gloom, include a memorable scene where Dickens meets Field on a London street and berates him for “stealing” his Mr. Bucket character. Be prepared for an exhilarating roller coaster ride of a book that is well worth the price of a ticket.