Monday, May 24, 2010

A Fierce Radiance-Lauren Belfer

A Fierce Radiance
Lauren Belfer
Harper, Jun 15 2010, $25.99
ISBN: 9780061252518

In Manhattans, Life Magazine sends photographer thirty something Claire Shipley to cover the report that medical scientists have developed an elixir from mold that looks like it will help with diseases. The single mom who lost her daughter years ago due to an infection/poison in her blood is exhilarated with what she hears at the briefing.

Dr. James Stanton who heads the research is attracted to Claire; she reciprocates and soon they are engaged. As Pearl Harbor draws the United States into the war, the pharmaceutical giants want to control mass production of penicillin. At the same time James’ sister mycologist Tia searches for relatives of penicillin, but something with promise vanishes from her lab. The Feds with publisher Henry Luce cooperating use Claire to help with their inquiry while her financier father wants control of the new industry. James, who was overseas helping with the deploying of penicillin, comes home believing that his future father-in-law had his sister murdered and her former boyfriend stole the promising antitoxin cousin from Tia.

This is an interesting look at historical industrial espionage and murder during WWII. The story line effortlessly moves back and forth between New York City boardrooms, labs and battlefield medicine. Adding to the sense of being at the forefront of the antibiotic revolution is Life magazine photo ops (through Claire’s camera lens). Although the personal relationships add depth to the lead couple, their estrangement and romance slows down an otherwise electrifying deep look back at a wild medical frontier.

Harriet Klausner

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