SAVAGE DAY by Thomas Wiseman


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Another ambitious more-than-just-suspense novel from the author of A Game of Secrets: this time Wiseman attempts, only half-successfully, to juggle a handful of weighty themes--science, sex, loyalty, violence--within a loose, textured, murder-mystery framework. Right from the start the setting is loaded with resonance: Los Alamos, New Mexico, 1945-45--starting on the eve of the final A-bomb test, when all the central characters are on edge: handsome, cool, calm David ""Bambi"" Bamberger, controller of the lab installation; his lovely, seemingly aloof wife Helen; randy, abrasive, bomb-happy scientist Leo Hepler, Bamberger's old classmate and scientific opposite; resident refugee genius Hofmannsthal; assistant Allison Dubinski, whose ""pinko"" scientist-husband has died of radiation; and security officer Richter, who's been told to be suspicious of Bamberger (an ex-communist). But Wiseman soon jumps ahead to Easter 1946--when, with the horror of Hiroshima hanging over all, a mini-Hiroshima happens: during an experiment (in quest of the H-bomb), Hepler is hit with a slowly fatal dose of radiation, apparently the result of foul play with the equipment. The suspects? Bamberger, who opposed the H-bomb progress; pinko Allison (now Richter's love); or maybe weird Hepler just got carried away in his atomic daredevil act. But then Richter stumbles on a marital brawl at the Bambergers and turns up Helen's diary: 100+ pages which graphically detail her debasing sex affair with amoral Hepler, interwoven (heavyhandedly) with grisly data on Hiroshima. So Bamberger now looks guiltier than ever--as he's interrogated at length, with other sex/spy secrets emerging. Finally, however, there's more mayhem (including slain children), with a showdown between Richter and the madman culprit. Wiseman impressively avoids the obvious roman à clef pitfalls of this historically grounded scenario: one accepts the characters and incidents on fictional terms, even while the A-bomb realities cast a powerful shadow. And the superior dialogue and provocative interplay of ideas are commanding. But Wiseman seems to have lost control of the complex thematic patterns here--leading to uneven pacing, insufficient focus, and a bunched-up series of unsatisfying resolutions. Too long and unshapely, then, and perhaps a bit too pretentious; but unquestionably intelligent work, with strong appeal to thoughtful readers.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Delacorte