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by Penny Leinwander

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4401-7271-7

Bloodshed and political skullduggery roil a nuclear power plant in this absorbing thriller.

Entering the reactor containment building at the Western Isles nuclear plant, radiological engineer Lindy Andrews confronts one of the few scenarios the manual doesn’t cover–a rotting corpse. Who bashed the vic's head in, and how the perp evaded the plant's strict security, are mysteries that have plant management, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the FBI in an uproar. The publicity is, well, radioactive, as media vultures hype the killing and the local greens of People for a Safe World seize on it as more proof nuclear power's dangers. Teaming up with hunky FBI agent Sawyer McMillan, Lindy works overtime to sift clues and mull some odd mechanical breakdowns that have plagued the plant. Meanwhile, a cutthroat environmentalist working for an anti-nuke gubernatorial candidate hatches a plot with an inside operative to put the plant permanently out of commission. Leinwander is an expert on nuclear power, and much of the novel constitutes an interesting tutorial on the nuts and bolts of a nuclear plant and a debunking of anti-nuclear alarmism. This agenda sometimes clashes with the alarmist imperatives of thriller fiction. The sabotage menace is somewhat diluted by the author's emphasis on the super-redundant safety of the whole setup. On the other hand, she staffs the plant with a colorful cast of cutups, lechers, practical jokers and at least one certifiable nutjob, which will not reassure those who’d prefer that nuclear technicians be sane, humorless and by-the-book. Fortunately, Leinwander is a skillful writer who immerses readers in well-crafted intrigue–Lindy tracking the killer using radiation dosimetry data, for example, is a tour-de-force of high-tech sleuthing. The author’s evocative portrait of an exotic and rarely explored setting–the steamy reactor area, the vast turbine hall, the eerie cerulean glow of the waste pools–makes for an unforgettable study in industrial noir.

An entertaining, inventive mystery.