The Darwin Affair

[Amazon Link]

The WSJ's Tom Nolan did a Best Mystery Books of 2019 compilation in mid-December, and I pushed the books therein onto my get-at-library list. This is the first, so far so good.

It's set in 1860s London, and the hero is Charles Field, an Inspector on the local police force. Field was an actual person, and Charles Dickens based the character of Inspector Bucket in Bleak House on him. In this book's universe, this causes a certain amount of consternation for Field, as everyone refers to him as "Mr. Bucket".

Things are set in motion by an apparent assassination attempt on Queen Victoria. Or was it aimed at Prince Albert instead? Participants wind up dead, making investigation inconvenient. And their left ears have been sliced off! Ew!

As it quickly develops, the attempt was part of a massive conspiracy set to deny Charles Darwin the knighthood he so richly deserved. At the top level are fictionalized actual people: Samuel Wilberforce, Sir Richard Owen, and Robert Fitzroy, who captained the Beagle decades earlier. But they've chosen a psycho, Decimus Cobb, to carry out the plot—he's the ear-slicing one. The psycho is nevertheless brilliant and talented, and he assembles a gang to assist his evil deeds, over which he rules by terror and intimidation.

Field gets onto him soon enough, but Cobb always seems to stay a couple steps ahead. Amusingly, Field is one of those loose-cannon, plays-by-his-own-rules detectives, always running afoul of his superiors. And a brief interaction with Karl Marx, he mouths off enough to the boss to lose his job. (For a while.)

It's great fun. My comments while reading enticed Mrs. Salad, so we renewed the book so she can read it.