A SHORT LIFE by Thomas Allen


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A recent front page story--concerning a woman who died just before Telling All about evildoing in the plutonium industry--is the blueprint for this competent but tediously drawn-out investigation/exposÉ novel. The investigator-narrator is D.C. reporter Frank Phelan; his starting point is the suspicious Oklahoma car-crash death of Judith Longden, a Caslon Nuclear Facility employee who was on her way to give Frank a tip about ""something big."" Working from interviews and from Judith's journals and tapes, Frank reconstructs her short life--early unhappy marriage in Texas, the move to Oklahoma, job and lovers at the plutonium plant, involvement in the Nuclear Workers Union's protests against dangerous conditions, official harassments (humiliating searches, seizures, and accusations) that give her ""paranoia cubed,"" and her strange bodily symptoms--premeditated radiation poisoning? The fact that Frank soon finds a rattlesnake in his motel room and a bomb under his car hood suggests that he's indeed onto ""something big,"" more than just a ""criticality coverup"" involving solvent-extraction waste. The truth: the theft of plutonium (for which Judith was being framed) by those at the top, and, more fundamentally, the general menace of the ""plutonium economy."" Trying for an appropriately documentary tone, Allen winds up neither here nor there--not personalized enough, and too plodding, for riveting fiction; too obviously fictional to supply the fully frightening satisfaction of a nonfiction expose Still, this is decent, solid work, without the blood-shriek-sex trimmings that usually go along with headline-conscious heavy breathers.

Pub Date: Feb. 16th, 1977
Publisher: Putnam