Now we know: it was Whitley Strieber who provided the punch in the powerful and best-selling Strieber/Kunetka doomsday...

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SHADOW MAN

Now we know: it was Whitley Strieber who provided the punch in the powerful and best-selling Strieber/Kunetka doomsday thrillers, War Day (1984) and Nature's End (1986). For his first solo novel, Kunetka offers an unfocused tale of murder and computer espionage at Los Alamos that features the same pallid pace and tone as his lackluster if earnest nonfiction, City of Fire (1978) and Oppenheimer (1982). Those accounts of Los Alamos and its founder--as well as his own experience as the son of a Los Alamos physicist--stand Kunetka in good stead when he evokes the insular, privileged, and high-stakes world of the nuclear weapons laboratory and hero physicist David Parker sweating toward development of an SDI laser. But Kunetka's carefully built setting counts for little as his solid premise--a key member of Parker's team, found murdered, is suspected of having stolen top-secret data--devolves into a routine play-out of the killer (and real thief) setting up Parker for the rap. The killer--another scientist--used the fantastic Los Alamos computer system to implicate the murder victim, and now uses it to set up Parker; but Kunetka wastes the dramatic possibilities in this nifty hightech criminality, dealing with the computer high jinks in shorthand and having the killer resort to such crime-boiler inanities as planting incriminating evidence in a pot in Parker's study. A subplot involving Parker's young son, an Indian policeman, and some stolen artifacts splits up the action without properly complicating it; Kunetka's harsh view of the FBI--in pursuit of Parker--grates; no real time-pressure forces events forward; and, finally and awkwardly, it's not Parker who at last brings justice to bear, but the killer himself via his own stupidity. The fascinating Los Alamos background doesn't save this jerry-built crime-meller with its limp, unresourceful hero. A novelist in Strieber's class, Kunetka dearly isn't.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 1987

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Warner

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1987