V.I. Warshawski tackles the monstrous legacy of early nuclear-fission research.
Somebody is trying to kill her, strung-out Judy Binder tells Dr. Charlotte "Lotty" Herschel, who runs the Chicago drug clinic where she’s been a revolving-door patient. So Lotty asks her old friend V.I. Warshawski to drive downstate to Palfry Township to check on her. V.I. doesn’t find Judy, but she does find two mastiffs, one shot to death, the other seriously wounded, and the corpse of Judy’s friend Ricky Schlafly, a meth cooker who came home from Chicago to get killed in the middle of a cornfield. Still looking for Judy, V.I. questions her mother, Kitty Binder, in Skokie and learns that Judy’s son Martin, a brainy computer tech at Metargon, went missing 10 days ago. In the first of many bait-and-switch instances, V.I. decides that she’d rather hunt for Martin than Judy and even talks hard-bitten Kitty into bankrolling her search. The trail will lead her all the way back to the Uranverein, where Kitty’s mother, Martina Saginor, worked with a circle of Nazi physicists to split the atom even though they knew their success would fuel Hitler’s war machine. Back in the present, meanwhile, Cordell Breen, who inherited Metargon (“Where the Future Lies Behind”) from the father who developed the BREENIAC architecture that drove early computer research, makes it clear that he’s just as interested as Kitty in the disappearance of Martin, who’d been closer than he would have liked to Breen’s Harvard-educated daughter Alison. There’ll be more fatalities, more digging into the past, more family skeletons, more brushes with intrusive government agencies and more flashbacks to the early years of the century before a showdown at another farm finally makes it safe for V.I. to venture out in public again.
Beneath the fierce scientific rivalries, the targets are so familiar that there’s little room for mystery, though V.I. has a charismatic and blistering way of bringing old secrets to light.