Onyx reviews: Darwin's Blade by
With Darwin's Blade, Dan Simmons continues his exploration of
suspense with a pulse-quickening action adventure. The versatile author has
previously proven his skill in horror, science fiction, fantasy and historical
The novel is a cross between a techno-thriller, a suspense novel and a gritty
detective mystery. As is his custom, Simmons blends existing elements into a new
fusion. Darwin's Blade is not a superficial thriller—it has a
depth and breadth that enlightens while it entertains. Simmons may write car
chases, but he fills them with intelligent and intricate details, transcending
typically mindless action scenes.
The Darwin Awards are conferred upon people who remove themselves from the gene
pool in spectacularly stupid ways. Numerous urban legends have evolved as
putative winners of these awards and it is with one of these that the novel
opens. Aptly named protagonist, Darwin Minor, an expert in accident scene
reconstruction, is summoned to investigate an incident involving a car that has
been "super-charged" with a rocket engine. The crash scene is a
splatter mark on the side of a mountain where the ill-advised driver and his
vehicle ultimately came to rest.
This is the first of many unique incidents that Minor investigates, some of
which Simmons has culled from real or fictitious reports circulated on the
Internet. Darwin Minor is the Sherlock Holmes of accident reconstruction. He
pieces together unusual chains of events using his power of observation, his
knowledge of physics and his awareness of human behavior.
Minor and his associates detect a link between several bizarre accidents and
suspect a complex insurance fraud at work. What is strange is that many of the
participants in the suspected fraud are winding up dead at the scene. Along with
his bosses and FBI Investigator Sydney Olsen, Minor tries to figure out who is
behind the conspiracy. With the investigation barely underway, Minor becomes the
target of an attempted assassination by two Russian mafia hit men. Someone feels
threatened, but the team isn't sure where the investigation has gotten so close
to the truth that it could cause this type of reaction.
Minor is a lone wolf. He tries to work with the expanding investigation, but
ultimately reverts to old, established survivalist behavior. At nineteen, he
served in Vietnam as an expert sniper. He is intelligent and courageous but has
phobias and aversions (flying, guns, relationships) that keep him from being
just another larger-than-life hero.
His awkward courtship with Investigator Olsen is charming and realistic. He has
been relationship-free in the ten years since he learned that his wife and baby
were on board a plane whose crash he was investigating. Simmons portrays a
tortured soul who is reawakening to life at the same time as he is fighting to
Simmons has done his research, and injects large doses of detail into the novel.
Most of it is delivered in palatable portions, although he occasionally lapses
into extended passages that may be hard for a non-scientist to swallow. Stephen
Hawking got away with only one equation in "A Brief History of Time"
-- Simmons has one three-page passage that describes the velocity achieved by
the victim of a human-vehicle collision in minute mathematical detail.
Minor and Olsen slowly work out the elaborate pyramid of the conspiracy, which
extends to include highly visible personalities. As they draw the net around
their suspects, the tension builds steadily, culminating in a dramatic sniper
duel at Minor's cabin retreat. Here, Simmons orchestrates a gripping finale that
will keep the reader turning pages as his heroes face seemingly overwhelming
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