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A Fierce Radiance    by Lauren Belfer order for
Fierce Radiance
by Lauren Belfer
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. War has been raging in Europe for several years. Men and women subjected to the hazards of war are dying. Not always because of the injuries themselves but because of the infections that attack afterwards. It's a losing battle.

Claire Shipley, a Life Magazine photographer, knows the heartache of losing a loved one due to infection. Claire lost her three-year-old daughter Emily to one that appeared after the child fell and scraped her skin.

Claire is sent to do a photo shoot at a lab that is working to perfect a new drug to fight infections penicillin. When her work is turned down kept for a future time - she is angry and curious. Dr. James Stanton, working at the Rockefeller Institute, introduces her to his sister Tia, who is close to discovering the new miracle drug.

Of course, human greed enters into this scenario. Penicillin cannot be patented, but any look-alike drug that is a substitute for penicillin and is manufactured using artificial substances can be. There are millions of dollars to be made. The urgency and motivation of the drug companies, all working on the new idea, knows no bounds.

Tia is found at the bottom of a cliff near the Institute. Suicide? Her brother says 'No way'. Accident? The police think so. But Tia was so close to success, why was she out walking on a cliff in high heels?

Tangled (seemingly loose) threads all come together to make this novel a very good read. Apart from an excellent plot, I enjoyed scenes from the 1940s that I remember so well. Milk bottles on front porches waiting for refills. A nickel for a newspaper. Life Magazine my family's favorite. Stars hanging in front windows, denoting that the soldiers who lived there were serving, wounded or killed in the war. Women in the work force. Ration books. Shortages everywhere.

The background to the discovery of penicillin is also fascinating. Realizing that this part had to be fictionalized made it no less important. A Fierce Radiance is a long novel and I still wanted more when I finished it. Lauren Belfer's first novel, City of Light, was widely acclaimed. Don't miss this one. It's truly a winner.

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