by David Quammen ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 13, 1983
Despite Quammen's classy-to-artsy prose and flashback chunks of H-bomb history, this convoluted suspense novel is wearisomely conventional--with spies in disguise, bodies falling at regular intervals, and a reluctant hero in the alienated/child-of-the-'60s mode: Mayberry (no first name, of course), a 35-year-old medical student in Oakland. Mayberry, you see, has been mailed a copy of Edward Teller's H-bomb ""configuration"" report--a still-top-secret document which young physics-whiz Jeffrey Jay Katy (brother of an old Vietnam buddy of Mayberry's) apparently managed to remove from the Los Alamos library. Furthermore, Katy has disappeared, is presumed dead; Mayberry finds his house ransacked, a dead body, two dead dogs; retired physicist Hannah Broch, whom Mayberry asked for advice about the Teller report, disappears, apparently kidnapped. And assorted enigmatic types are after the report in a big way: Albert Varvara, claiming to be an investigator for a nuclear-construction company, tells Mayberry that a Vietnam-vet named Chester Armatrading (who just happens to be Mayberry's old enemy) is involved in the theft; ACLU lawyer Karen, out to defend freedom-of-information, turns out to be Katy's sister-in-law; and someone named Zuckerman keeps sending Mayberry messages, offering to buy the report from him. Soon, then, Mayberry is chasing and being chased, finding more bodies, tracking down the elusive Zuckerman. Meanwhile, there are flashbacks to the Mayberry/Armatrading enmity in Vietnam--and, at great length, to a half-intriguing fact/fiction history of the H-bomb: Hannah Broch's romantic involvements with both Robert Oppenheimer (who opposed the superbomb) and Michael Zolta, who was the real genius behind the bomb; the hints of Soviet spying throughout the atomic-science contingent. And finally, after various CIA and KGB allegiances are uncovered (no surprises), Mayberry has a showdown with his own secrets--and with the key, nuke-crazed culprit. . . who's working for Israel. Crammed with plot ideas, none of them satisfactorily developed: a sometimes ironic/stylish but ultimately murky stew that's too hackneyed for serious readers, too slow for most of the thriller audience.
Pub Date: May 13, 1983
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1983
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