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by James Fleming
Atria, January 2007
368 pages
ISBN: 0743299388

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

James Fleming’s WHITE BLOOD, the tale of a rather nasty Anglo-Russian insect collector who, when the Russian revolution reaches his provincial dacha, gets some firsthand exposure to survival of the fittest, is one of the best new novels I have read in a long time.

It is a work of literary fiction that draws on the conventions of the mystery and horror genres. Fleming’s unsympathetic characters, grisly descriptions of insects and homo sapiens as prey and predators, and bizarre science-filtered view of history make WHITE BLOOD a unique and haunting read.

The tale is narrated, with a heavy, deliberately frustrating dose of subjectivity, by Charlie Doig, a young Anglo-Russian man who was raised in London, became an entomologist, and toured the world catching, killing, and toting home rare insects for the most discerning collectors. These exploits take him to distant, often colonized, lands, where his behaviour with his other quarry – prostitutes – defines him as a predatory animal in a Hobbesian wilderness.

On the eve of the Russian Revolution, Doig returns home, covets his naïve, dependent, and unfortunately already-betrothed aristocratic cousin Elizaveta, and finds himself acting out Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest. Unfortunately for Doig, other people in the area – Bolsheviks – are also interested in conducting radical experiments on human subjects. What follows is reminiscent of both DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and THE LORD OF THE FLIES, but derivative of neither.

I should add that James Fleming is the nephew of Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond books and the children’s fantasy CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. However, James’s fiction has evolved in an entirely different, but equally engrossing direction from that of his famous relation.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, January 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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