Excerpt from The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Darwin Affair

by Tim Mason

The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason X
The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2019, 384 pages
    Jun 2020, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Tara Mcnabb
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Darwin Affair

The heat moved like a feral thing through the streets, fetid and inescapable. Chief Detective Inspector Charles Field, sweating in his shiny black greatcoat, ducked into the shadowed portico of a house near St. Albans Street, just bordering the Mall. Because of the view it offered, as well as the protection from the elements, it was the spot he invariably used to monitor royal processions along this stretch. The horses pulling the royal carriage plodded solemnly, resignedly, their tails flicking at the flies. Victoria and Albert, their faces glimpsed within the open coach, had a wilted look, but they seemed to be conversing nevertheless. Today, given the heat and the mundane nature of Her Majesty's errand (she and the Prince Consort were to open a public bath in the West End), the crowd was understand-ably thin. But because the Queen already had survived several attempts on her life, the royal coach was accompanied by a couple of the Horse Guard. A few police constables, Field's men, walked here and there along the route, watching the spectators and licking perspiration from beneath their mustaches.

Inspector Field, his face glistening, clutched his stiff top hat behind his back. Tall, dark, and burly, he was clean-shaven, unlike most of his contem-poraries, and gave the impression of not having been properly introduced to the clothing he wore. His shifting gaze touched each onlooker, one by one, and then came to rest on a skinny, threadbare figure on the curb directly before him.

I know you.

Little Stevie Patchen was an eighteen-year-old pickpocket and occasional purveyor of stolen goods. Field and his men had hauled him before the magistrates more than once. "Hatchet-Face," as Stevie was known to his intimates, was a very small fish in London's large pond of criminality, but what was he doing here among these mostly provincial sightseers? And what was he holding in a bundle of rags wrapped round his right hand?

As the royal carriage drew abreast of him, Stevie's arm rose. "Oi!" shouted Field, starting to move. "Stevie!"

The youth glanced nervously over his shoulder, saw the policeman bearing down on him, and flung away the bundle of rags. He hadn't run more than a couple of yards before Field tackled him, tumbling him and then immediately hauling him to his feet again, and frog-marching him back toward St. Albans Street. The royal carriage continued slowly on.

"Leave off!" cried Stevie. Field spun the lad around and shoved him against the railings of a grand house at No. 44 St. Albans, introducing the back of his head to the iron rods. A fine spray spurted from Stevie's nose. "Now look, I'm bleedin'!"

"It was a gun you just pitched away, was it not? Assassination? You're out of your depth, Stevie!"

"This all you got to do now you're famous, Mr. Bucket? Persecute the lowly?"

"My name is Field, not Bucket. He's a fiction, and I am a real, daylight fact, right here before you. Whatever do you have against the Queen?"

"I don't know what you're on about." Stevie wiped his bloody nose with a sleeve.

"I'll tell you what you're about, young man, you're about the hangman's rope that is someday a-waiting you, that's all. You know it, and I know it, and I'd wager your mother knew it, too, to her sorrow, as you partook the maternal refreshment."

"Sod off."

"I beg your pardon?" said Field, danger in his voice.

Stevie's eyes darted furtively. "Think you're so bleedin' smart."

A fearful thought occurred to the inspector: I'm looking at a decoy.

"Damn," he muttered, shoving the little man from him and then abruptly running, pelting along the broad Mall, scattering pigeons as he ran. The sudden crack of a pistol shot smote him like a blow.

Oh, dear God.

Field sprinted down the dusty road, trying to make out what was happening.

Excerpted from The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason. Copyright © 2019 by Tim Mason. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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