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  • Writer's pictureHannah Zunic

Monkey Man: A Review of The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

Hello, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.

Special hello goes out to South Africa today. It’s so lovely to see you here! I hope you have a wonderful time here at RHRML. If this is the first time you're joining us then you’re in luck cause I have a special review today.

Bears waving.
How's everyone's day going?

Today’s review is brought to you by Novel Suspect’s Insiders Club and Algonquin Books. They aren’t paying me for my review, they just sent me the book for free. And thank you so much for doing that. I truly appreciate that someone out there wants to send me books. Thank you so much for sending me a copy of today’s read.

And what is today’s book? What am I reviewing today? A very good question. Please welcome to the stage The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason.

Book cover of The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason.

Yes, The Darwin Affair is about that Darwin. We’re in the middle of the Victorian era following none other than Charles Darwin. We got a lot of big names in this one so let’s crack into it.

Charles Darwin saying, "haters gonna hate."
Lots of big names to talk about today.

As always, a spoiler alert is in order. This is your one and only warning cause I’m really good at spoiling the majority of the books I review. I also must issue a content and trigger warning. The Darwin Affair covers many dark themes that range from abuse, sexual assault, and lots of detailed gore. Not a book for those who can’t handle gore. I also suggest looking up some more trigger and content warnings for this book because there’s a lot going on in this one and I feel like I’ve missed some things. But with that, let’s get to the synopsis.

Our story begins with Detective Bucket, er…I mean Detective Field who has been tasked with protecting Queen Victoria from assassination attempts. He’s not doing too well as he fails to stop one right at the start of our book. Thankfully the royal family is unhurt. Detective Field’s career isn’t going too great though. While the failed assassination attempt occurred, a young man was also murdered and it’s Detective Field’s belief that the two crimes are related; but no one believes him cause he can’t stop a single assassination attempt.

10 Things I Hate About You.
Everyone at Detective Field:

Wanna know how they’re related? Good, I’m about to tell you. He believes they’re related because of Charles Darwin. You see, Prince Albert wants Charles Darwin knighted and there are people out there who don’t. So said people do the normal thing and plan assassination attempts. And kidnap children. And are sadistic. And also have Typhoid Mary locked in their attic in order to slowly kill people.

Homer Simpson reading and looking confused.
If you're a little confused, don't worry, I got you.

There’s a lot going on, but the TL;DR is there is a sadistic man who hates Charles Darwin and wants him dead, and also wants Prince Albert dead cause the latter is helping the former gain fame. Detective Field is our main character trying to figure out who the villain is.

In all honesty, the plot is pretty simplistic. There are just a lot of moving parts and a whole lot of Victorian era celebrity references. The whole story is just a long form cat and mouse game where the protagonists and antagonist travel all across England and into other parts of western Europe. At its core, there’s not a lot going on.

Now, The Darwin Affair isn’t messy. I feel I’ve done a bad job at describing this book, but it’s not messy! Tim Mason spent a lot of time researching the time period and it shows. There are some great historic details in these pages. Save for Typhoid Mary since she lived in America and was nowhere near England at the time. Other than that, the history and detail is top tier. I truly loved this aspect of the novel.

Woman clapping.
I do love a good immersive historical fiction book.

What I do not like are the amount of characters. Tragically, The Darwin Affair suffers from Too Many Characters Syndrome. When it comes to the fictional characters, I only know who Detective Field is. Every other character was a shot in the dark. I couldn’t keep them straight and I’m too afraid to ask who they are at this point. I did better with the real life people just because they’re such notable figures. But this book didn’t need to include Karl Marx. His inclusion is truly irrelevant.

Seriously, half the characters don’t need to be included. They offer nothing to the plot, fictional Karl Marx I’m talking to you, and make things even more confusing than they need to be. It also made this book longer than it needs to be. It took me forever to get through this one. Like nearly two weeks of my life was taken up reading this book. It’s roughly 375 pages, it’s a pretty standard novel length, it shouldn’t have taken me that long to read it. It put me behind schedule and for that I am mad. Anyway, the amount of characters made The Darwin Affair harder for me to follow when the core plot is pretty simple. For that I dock points.


That is one of my main issues with this novel. The other is the following. The Darwin Affair is simplistic at its core, but the unnecessary side characters and subplots drag the novel out to the point you sometimes forget why the main character is sleuthing. Despite the book being called The Darwin Affair, Charles Darwin is forgotten about pretty often. Because of this, the mystery just didn’t do it for me.

1920's woman being dissapointed.
V sad. You know I love a good historical mystery novel

But, if you want a really villainous villain, this book is for you! This man is batshit. A sadistic creep that makes you want to bleach your eyeballs after he appears on the pages, but a good villain. While he has his motives that are revealed in the end, he’s really just a villain who is a villain for the sake of being a villain. Love that for him.

Inspector Gadget villain.
He does give some cartoon villain vibes at times, not gonna lie.

There is one final aspect I must discuss before I end this review. That is just how divisive, controversial, and explosive Darwin’s theory of evolution was when it first dropped. The world flipped the fuck out and, ya know, I never really thought about it. The world flipped its shit. It’s not something we talk or think about in 2023 though. Just seeing the divide between science and religion, and what every character believed was one of the most interesting parts of this novel. Simply because the topic is not something talked about or focused on in the modern day. I enjoyed The Darwin Affair for this.

And with that, I shall bid you all adieu. I shall see you all next week with another new review and perhaps a new Books&Lewks. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Books&Lewks look but I got a good one for you! See ya next week!

Until then, stay safe, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.

Bears waving.
See y'all then, bye!


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