Darnton’s latest novel on scientific themes follows Hugh Kellem, an anthropologist whose study of Darwin’s finches leads him to Cambridge, where, listlessly searching through Darwin’s papers for a thesis topic, he stumbles upon a secret diary kept by Darwin’s second daughter, Lizzie. Darnton interweaves Hugh’s investigation with excerpts from Lizzie’s writings and with flashbacks to Darwin’s voyage aboard the Beagle. Both Darwin’s daughter and the modern researcher become obsessed with the twenty-two-year gestation period between the voyage and Darwin’s publication of his theory. The solution to the mystery manages to be not only fussily elaborate but fundamentally simplistic, and it involves too many dark hints and convenient coincidences. Still, Darnton has a good feel for both the Victorian era and the modern scientific milieu.
Clearly, Darnton is a demon researcher. The Galapagos setting is accurate; the layout of Darwin's home in Kent is perfect; the story of the Beagle invitation is exactly as Janet Browne tells it in her riveting biography. Darnton nails nearly every fact, from the length of the Galapagos drought in 1977 to the name of Darwin's butler. What defeats him is the impossibility of making a bad guy out of a great man.
The New York Times Book Review
Darwin's theories have been under attack since he first published The Origin of Species in 1859, but this grandly ambitious novel goes a few steps further to intimate that he was a fraud-and a murderer. Told by turns from three perspectives, the story opens in the present on a volcanic outcrop off the coast of Ecuador where Hugh Kellem, a British field researcher, while tracing Darwin's research path, meets Beth Dulcimer, a beautiful scientist rumored to be distantly related to Darwin. A quick shift shows an ambitious young Darwin about to embark on the Beagle. A little further on, Darwin's youngest daughter, Lizzie, enters via her journal entries, written in the 1870s, decades after Darwin's famous five-year voyage. As the three perspectives unfold, Hugh and Beth find themselves trying to solve the same mystery that intrigued Lizzie 130 years earlier: what happened on the "nuit de feu," the night that transformed the confident, robust Darwin into a haunted near-invalid for his remaining years? Stilted dialogue, perfunctory romance and expendable subplots make for a rough voyage, but Darnton (Neanderthal) puts real passion into his historical imaginings and recreations: the revelation of the "true" origin of the theory of evolution is particularly inspired and more than enough to sustain another Darntonian bestseller. Agent, Kathy Robbins. 100,000 first printing. (Sept. 20) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Although he was revered as one of the giants of 19th-century science, Charles Darwin (Origin of Species) was rumored to have stolen much of his theory of evolution from others and refused to give them credit. Darnton (Neanderthal) here examines the life and times of Darwin from three different perspectives. Two contemporary scientists uncover research articles that hint at impropriety in Darwin's work. Darnton then describes how this young man barely made it aboard the H.M.S. Beagle for the voyage that led him to the Galapagos Islands and the finches whose beaks gave him the idea of "natural selection." Finally, Darwin's daughter, Lizzie, presents her impressions of her father in a series of diary entries and letters. It is Lizzie who discovers the unpublished chapter of Darwin's book that brings the "conspiracy" to an exciting and highly plausible conclusion. Three different readers (Bernadette Quigley among them) help to keep the action flowing despite numerous characters, murky subplots, and scientific detail. With a three-year celebration leading up to the February 2009 bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species, this work will be a welcome and popular item for all public libraries. Joseph L. Carlson, Allan Hancock Coll., Lompoc, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Darwin's big secret, finally revealed!It's surprising that someone with as impressive a pedigree as the New York Times' Pulitzer-winning reporter Darnton, who also has a respectable track record in commercial fiction (Mind Catcher, 2002, etc.), didn't do a better job with this novel about Darwin and evolution. The story moves along several parallel lines. The first involves anthropologist Hugh Kellum and toothsome academic Beth Dulcimer, both obsessed with figuring out the central mysteries of Darwin's life. (Why did he wait more than two decades to publish Origin of the Species? Why he was so depressed and guilty-seeming? And so on.) The second narrative follows Darwin himself as he travels on the Beagle and formulates his thesis regarding evolution. A third strand is introduced when Hugh stumbles across a secret diary kept by Darwin's daughter Elizabeth; it helps him and Beth fill in some of the blanks in the naturalist's life. The novel's most riveting pages show the timid Darwin braving the seas, discovering new-found confidence on distant shores and fending off competition from a cartoonishly drawn nemesis who seeks to be the first to popularize the evolution theory. Present-day plot developments are less than enthralling, and Darnton scarcely bothers to develop his characters beyond the barest of sketches. The book bumbles along, hardly exciting but moving speedily enough, until it comes at last to the revelation of the dark secret that has lurked in Darwin's papers...until now. Darnton's not-quite-pulp scientific adventure has the ring of early Michael Crichton, but the final sections are just plain silly, right down to the cliched struggle on a ledge over an active volcano.Reduces one of history's most important scientific discoveries to a mediocre whodunit. First printing of 100,000
“An entertaining, fast-paced read.” –Los Angeles Times
“Darnton has playfully created and solved several mysteries revolving around events during Charles Darwin’s early voyage on the Beagle.” –The Boston Globe
“Darnton has a good feel for both the Victorian era and the modern scientific milieu.” –The New Yorker
“An elaborate scientific thriller, rich with detail and the pacing of a good murder mystery.” –Winston-Salem Journal
“A fast-paced, intriguing and exciting story.”
–The Decatur Daily