THE DARWIN STRAIN by Bill Schutt

THE DARWIN STRAIN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Man versus squid in a post–World War 2 mashup.

Cryptozoologist R.J. MacCready has seen that red gunk before (in The Himalayan Codex, 2017), and he knows something about its properties: It can accelerate evolution, support health and recovery, and possibly even increase intelligence. Finding it in the caldera lagoon of Santorini in the Mediterranean is a little surprising, as it was last seen in the Nepalese mountains, but MacCready, Jacques Cousteau of scuba fame, and MacCready's "spooky" partner, Yanni Thorne, who can communicate with animals, are definitely the team to investigate this new manifestation. But there's a lot of competition for the miraculous goop: The Russians have caught a sniff of the substance, and Nora Nesbit, a rival researcher with ties to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, arrives to steal the thunder if she can. But the biggest competition comes from the creatures that flourish in the waters there. These are supersmart cephalopods, never specifically described as squid or octopus or cuttlefish, but eventually the text settles on "kraken," are able to communicate and plan coordinated actions, distinguish between good and not-so-good groups of people, and defend their territory. The red goop may have contributed to their evolutionary success, and in a subplot, the prehistory of the Mediterranean basin and the development of their culture are intertwined, providing a somewhat distracting quasi-scientific rationale for their success. While the U.S. factions struggle with each other, and both with the Russians, all three must contend with the cephalopods, who generally seem the most honorable and likable of the sides. Recurring characters MacCready and Yanni are unconvincing, and overall the whole enterprise is confusingly plotted and carelessly presented. It's too bad—smart squids, and especially octopuses, are rising stars in our appreciation of the natural world, and a controlled and affecting narrative featuring cephalopods would be a treat, but this isn't it.

Murkier than squid ink and not as tasty.

Pub Date: Aug. 6th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-06-283547-5
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2019




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