Libby Clark (Treason in the Secret City, 2016, etc.) continues her crusade against sexism at the Oak Ridge nuclear research facility in 1945.
As the only woman in her lab in Y-12, Libby is used to sticking up for herself. But when a series of pranks threatens the work of the scientists who are busy “processing product for the gadget,” as they coyly refer to the frightening new weapon they’re developing for the U.S. military, she finds herself in a bind. Lt. Col. Crenshaw is sure Libby knows who’s behind the increasingly serious incidents. Libby is indeed convinced the answer lies in either Y-12 or neighboring Alpha Lab but doesn’t want to implicate any of her co-workers, especially those who meet each Wednesday at Joe’s under the code name “Walking Molecules” to support each other and voice their concerns about the endgame of their secret research. Crenshaw leans in, Libby pushes back. In the meantime, Tom O’Malley, one of the Molecules, leaves for his father’s funeral and never returns. And although her best friend, Ruth Nance, suddenly shows up at Oak Ridge after a brief exile to resume her clerical job, restoring the numerical balance in her world doesn’t help Libby much with Crenshaw. Neither does Fanning’s flat-footed prose, which reduces pretty much everyone to the least common denominator.
Even in the labs, everyone’s a generic “scientist.” No biology, no physics, and precious little chemistry.