Darwin's Nightmare Hardcover – Oct 1 2008
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Quill & Quire
Meet Wilson. No first name necessary. All he’s ever known is a life of crime. He has chosen a criminal path even in the face of his family members’ attempts to dissuade him. His method is simple: take on jobs from Hamilton mob boss Paolo Donati – no matter how brutal – and execute them. Wilson measures his existence according to his boss’s underlying philosophy, which, as the book’s title suggests, owes a lot to The Origin of Species: “Paolo saw his empire as a vast ecosystem, and he would not allow it to become unbalanced. Unbalanced meant he was not in control, and that chaos signaled weakness.” But even the smallest act can blow up in complicated fashion. For Wilson, that includes stealing a bag from the nearby airport without checking the contents, and administering rough justice on behalf of a less-than-trustworthy friend. In episodic fashion, we see how Wilson’s quest to grasp any specks of humanity remaining within himself is repeatedly stymied, and others are incited to vengeful acts borne out of the idea that “weakness was worse than death.” Yet the novel, while violent and sometimes nihilistic, is not bleak. There is welcome black humour: “favors from a mob boss are like Grandma’s china – nice to have, but you never thought of actually using it.” Knowles also keeps Wilson balancing on a seesaw between likeability and villainy, tipping it just enough toward the former that readers empathize with him even as he moves further down the line toward the latter. Darwin’s Nightmare is a sobering look at what happens when a tentative quest for morality comes up against the reality that everyone lives in the jungle – where life has no value.
"Relentless. Only the most ruthless survive. A fantastic new hard-boiled voice. Anti-hero Wilson is pitch-perfect." John McFetridge, author, Dirty Sweet
"A sobering look at what happens when a tentative quest for morality comes up against the reality that everyone lives in the jungle, where life has no value." Quill & Quire
"Fans of Charlie Huston and Chuck Palahniuk will probably enjoy Darwin's Nightmare." Sacramento Book Review
"This fast paced novel is not for the faint of heart." MagillOnLiterature Plus
Top Customer Reviews
Natural Law, Science, and the Social Construction of Reality
While the actual plot of this book is a bit fantastic---all that shooting and violence in Hamilton Ontario--the book nevertheless grabs you.
The main character Wilson is a product of a criminal family, hence the title. he has inherited this life and has made it his.
He is a free lance grifter who takes odd jobs from organized crime.
One of the jobs he does gets him in the middle of a major gang war between the old Italian mob and the new Russian mob.
Because of the way in which he has been brought up he manages to think himself through the situations he finds himself in so he can survive.
The bodies pile up right, left, and center but there is never any mention of the police. It is as if the world of gang warfare in this town is in somewhat of a vacuum.
But the writing is good and the character is good so, ultimately the book is good.
Where will Wilson turn up in the next installment?
The story follows the protagonist Wilson through an organized crime caper set in Hamilton with occasional flashbacks of how he became a career criminal. The novel seems like a hard-boiled noir to me.
There were a couple of things that didn't add up. Besides the mention of a few Hamilton street names and street addresses, this could have (and probably should have) taken place elsewhere - perhaps New York or Chicago. The novel tells us nothing else about Hamilton, but those that know it know that organized crime doesn't exist there to such a violent extent. There were several large shooting scenes, on par with an international thriller story, but the Hamilton part didn't ring true.
Also, much is made of the parcel that Wilson is set out to thieve from a rival criminal and of the serious nature of its contents. But the story ends without the reader ever learning what was so important about it.
Criticism aside, I enjoyed the writing style and quick pace and would recommend this to others and will look for more from Mike Knowles.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Our tour guide in this quick, gritty journey through the Hamilton underworld is a professional grifter known simply as Wilson. The story opens with Wilson swiping a package for his employer, the Italian mob led by Paolo Donati. Unfortunately, the package was a bag containing computer disks which contain crucial accounting information involving the Russian mob. Throw in a few computer nerds and Wilson is facing three enemies at once.
Wilson finds himself in between the two groups, who both end up wanting to kill him for different reasons in the battle for Hamilton supremacy. Forever the loner, Wilson has just one true friend - a bar owner named Steve who has Wilson to thank for even being alive.
"I thought to myself, a friend who will clean up dried blood for you is a friend for life."
The book was intense, exciting and in some parts very gruesome (one poor soul loses an ear and a nose before being stomped to death) but did not stand out in one way or another. It was definitely a stellar first effort for Knowles, the Canadian elementary school teacher who will probably avoid reading this one to the kiddies.
Paolo Donati, the self-proclaimed "King of the f****** jungle" was your typical mafia don. He and Wilson were always at odds, especially when our protagonist assisted in taking the life of Donati's top henchman, but Wilson was always spared.
One thing I enjoyed was Knowles describing the steps Wilson took before executing any task. Wilson would meticulously scout a building before parking a few blocks away and walking toward imminent danger. However, this grew tedious at times.
Darwin's Nightmare did not feature the usual Hollywood ending but it wasn't much better. Would I recommend this to a fan of Hammett? Nah.
Overall, the story featured a high body count and a low quality ending.