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Friday, September 16, 2011

A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer, 2010, * * *

Lauren Belfer's medical thriller begins in December 1941, three days after the Japanese assult on Pearl Harbor.  Claire Shipley, a photojournalist working for the phenomellay successful Life Magazine, has come to the Rockefeller Institute in New York to record one of the earliest trials of a new medication called penicillin. Highly effective in experiements involving baterial infections in mice,  the country's brightest doctors and researchers are racing to find a cure that will save the lives of thousands of wounded American soldiers and countless others.  Claire's assignment introduces her to the world of Jamie Stanton, a dedicated physician at Rockefeller and his younger sister Tia, a mycologist,  who are involved in the research of this "miracle" drug.   Claire is a single mother haunted by the death of her young daughter, which might have been prevented by this drug, and by her divorce years ago.  Belfer uses the urgency of Stanton's mission -- finding a means of mass-producing penicillin - to add drama to the romantic attraction that develops between Claire and Jamie.  The novel's tension increases as Jamie is called away by the government to oversee top secret research for the military in laboratories throughout the nation. As the race for lucrative pharmaceutical patents on penicillin's cousins heats up, Claire's father , a wealthy tyconn, begins to play a significant role in the narrative.  A Fierce Radiance is an ambitious story, combining medical and military history with commercial rivalry, espionage and thwarted love.  Belfer captures the uncertainty and spirit, the dreams and hopes, of a nation at war.  It is a tale of love and betrayal, intrigue and idealism, and yet the ending fell far short of my expectations.

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