The Darwin Strain (Review): Cold War politics meets scientific investigation

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RATING: 🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬🔬 (7/10)

Perceptions of history are often malleable. Facts tend to be what they are until proven that they aren’t. This has never stopped fiction writers from taking liberties with the lives and livelihoods of historical figures. Sometimes this results in relatively restrained creations such as Lee Harvey Oswald in Don Dellilo’s Libra or members of the Soviet Politburo in the film, The Death of Stalin. Other times, the exercise results in wildly unlikely imaginings exemplified by Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. The Darwin Strain (William Morrow), Bill Schutt and J.R. Finch’s latest installment of R.J. MacCready adventure novels, sits somewhere in between.

The book picks up not long after the Himalayan Codex left off. However, this time around, the peaks of Asia have been substituted for the sun-bleached cliffs of Santorini just after World War II. At the bottom of the Mediterranean, a fissure on the ocean floor spews a red substance that rises to the surface. The locals discover that it possesses curative powers and attribute it to divine miracle, the “Greek version of Lourdes and Fatima.” When the soon-to-be-legendary Jacques Cousteau is brought to the location by two divers, he speculates that the dust is microbial in nature, what would be termed extremophiles in today’s parlance. However, his visit is cut short when an unseen creature executes a brutal attack, killing Cousteau’s guides.

R.J. MacCready arrives on the scene with his Brazilian sidekick, Yanni Thorne. His research rival, Nora Nesbitt, is not far behind, also prepared to investigate the mysterious ocean floor emission, only with the official backing of the U.S. government. Unbeknownst to them, Soviet agents are also roaming the Mediterranean at the behest of the infamous Stalinist scientist, Trofim Lysenko. What ensues is an international race to control the powers unleashed by the Red Dust as well as the creatures enhanced by its properties.

Part international thriller, part adventure story, The Darwin Strain develops into an extended Mexican Standoff, something that can be interpreted as keeping with the Cold War aspects of the novel. The Americans, Soviets, and mysterious creatures are locked in a battle that boils eventually down to technology, in this case weapons. In that sense, it’s obvious who will emerge victorious because if man can do one thing well, it’s using weapons to obliterate destroying everything in his path.

The Darwin Strain dances between a distant past and recent history. Prehistoric hominins tangle with mythological creatures. The descendants of both avoid each other for as long as possible until fate shoves them onto the same path. Taken as a whole, Schutt and Finch’s latest book adds up to an enjoyable page-turner that borrows from real history and spins an unapologetic narrative driven forward by just enough science to make things interesting.

For more information about Bill Schutt, follow him on Twitter @draculae

WORDS: Brice Marsters

IMAGE SOURCE: William Morrow

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