The Descent of Man: A Novel by Kevin Desinger (Unbridled Books; $24.95; 272 pages)
The Descent of Man explores an interesting premise: In the face of fear, can humans actually de-evolve into their basest nature creating a world where self-preservation overtakes reason and higher-order thinking?
The book opens when the main character, Jim, and his wife, Marla, hear two car thieves attempting to steal their car in the wee hours of the morning. Jim’ s subsequent decision on how to act, and then an impulsive, unplanned act, come together instantly to set off a chain of events that involve a lie, which, of course, leads to subsequent lies and more complications before the story finally resolves itself.
The tale starts off well. While the theft of a car may lead one to initially assume that the book will be an action/suspense story, a great deal of the early portion of the book is told from a psychological, philosophical point of view through the inner workings of the minds of the main characters. This is where the book works best.
As the story unfolds, a promising concept begins to unravel. It is possible the author tried to do too much at once. For a while, the reader may want this to be a thriller, with humans hunting down other humans, car chases, accidents, and scenes that take place in the seediest part of town. Or, they may like the parts that stick to the introduction and are a psychological drama about tormented and tortured souls. Or, they may like the scenes that touch on the relationship between Jim and Marla and want more of the “love story”, for lack of a better term. But the reader gets a little bit of each and not enough of any of them to be truly satisfied.
It is hard to know what to make of the detective in the story. Does he want to help Jim, or is he setting Jim up? Clearly, he does not trust Jim, yet at the end, they seem to form an interesting, through unrealistic bond. One painful incident from the couple’s past is introduced, but does not do much to advance the story or give hints as to the current nature of their relationship. Perhaps, in fact, the most unsatisfying parts of the story are those that focus on Jim and Marla. Jim is supposedly desperately in love with her, and she wants badly to reconcile after events cause them to be apart for a while. But most of this picks up about halfway through, when the reader believes the story is headed in a different direction. There just isn’t enough to them to care very much about their relationship. The crimes, lies and curiosity about who might get caught, killed, or whatever, is much more intriguing.
There are some other problems from a plausibility standpoint, like when Jim buys a gun from a hooker he hardly knows during one of his insomniac-based ventures into the town’s red light district.
In this reviewer’s opinion, author Kevin Desinger has promise, but the book falls a bit short despite some strong passages that peak the reader’s interest.
A review copy was received from the publisher. The Descent of Man will be released on May 3, 2011.