Take a God-fearing Christian, stick him in a boat with Charles Darwin, make them near-constant companions on a wildlife-collecting study and see what it does to the Christian.
Mr. Darwin’s Shooter is a fictionalized account of the life of Syms Covington, Darwin’s servant during his days aboard the Beagle, collecting specimens that laid the foundation for The Origin of Species. It involves Covington’s struggle to reconcile his beliefs with what Darwin is showing him about evolution.
The story bounces back and forth between Covington’s time with Darwin and some time in the future when Covington lives in Australia, his odd relationship with Dr. MacCracken, a man who appears to hold the key to Covington’s salvation.
Throughout the story, we learn more and more about Covington, where Darwin remains a distant, somewhat cold member of the gentry. An effort at characterization is made, showing how Darwin moves farther away from his belief in God as he goes deeper in his study of Evolutionary Theory and Natural Selection, but for the most part, he remains the same.
Covington comes of age in the backward-looking chapters. He loses friends, loses himself and falls in love. His charm is in his irrepressible spirit and his willingness to tackle anything that’s asked of him.
The older Covington is stodgy, set in his ways, and inflexible. However, he has an agenda of his own, and when, inevitably, he dies at the end of the story, it is in peace with his creator, and it is seen through his eyes as a reunion with all those he lost at sea.
Mr. Darwin’s Shooter was a pretty large step outside of the kind of books that I normally read – Fantasy, Mystery, Cop-Drama – and I was very pleasantly surprised by both the quality of writing and how moved I was by Covington’s desperate search for salvation and his need for the recognition of his master.