In John Darnton’s The Darwin Conspiracy, Hugh Kellem is searching for inspiration among Darwin’s papers, hoping to find a topic for his thesis. He’s tormented by the death of his older brother, the man he’s spent his whole life trying to live up to. When Hugh comes upon the journal of one of Darwin’s daughters, Lizzie, he begins to unlock a mystery surrounding Darwin and his famous revelations on The Beagle. The story takes place in three times and settings, the first- modern day with Hugh, the second – in Lizzie’s journal, and the third- from Darwin’s point of view on The Beagle itself. Hugh uses the secrets he uncovers to finally explain why it took Darwin 22 years to write The Origin of Species —an explanation filled with deciept, blackmail, and perhaps even murder. All the while, Hugh learns his own brothers secrets, and starts to come to terms with his feelings toward him.
While the premise was interesting, I never found myself compelled to pick up the book, and I never had that wonderful urge to read one more chapter. My favorite parts were of the relationship that grows between Hugh and a young woman, Beth, who is also researching Darwin’s past (and her own). Some parts of this work were too far-fetched, while others were too convenient. And like Neanderthal, Darnton’s work seems to veer into the absurd by the end, taking a fascinating scientific-novel into something sillier. However, true research into Darwin’s life and work was obviously done, and it is always interesting to be shown a new perspective on such a revolutionary man.
Try The Darwin Conspiracy if you like John Darnton’s other scientific-thriller Neanderthal.