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Los Alamos by Joseph Kanon

Los Alamos (1997)

by Joseph Kanon

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The plot of Los Alamos hinges on a fictional protagonist, civilian intelligence liaison Michael Connolly, brought in to investigate the murder of a Los Alamos security officer, his face bashed in and his pants pulled down. Connolly is asked to discover whether the crime is more than the violent sex crime it appears to be, even while those associated with the project--paranoid over security leaks and the specter of Communists everywhere--would prefer it be just that. Nice and tidy. Of course it isn't nice and tidy, and Connolly's dogged determination to pursue the truth to the bitter end, no matter how bitter it turns out to be, carries him through acts of betrayal from all sides and his own growing interest and eventual affair with the wife of one of the Los Alamos scientists.

The setting, in both New Mexico and Los Alamos, is very detailed and well researched. The most enjoyable aspect in many ways is the interaction between Connolly as a fictional character with the real-life Oppenheimer and General Groves, woven together neatly within the framework of the events leading up to the Trinity test in the desert on that fateful day on July 16, 1945.

To be honest, the plot is fairly easy to figure out, at times almost taking a back seat to the setting. Some readers might quibble with the love interest feeling a bit unnecessary, and a few of the local characters lean a tad toward the cliched. The more restless and impatient readers may get a bit bogged down in Kanon's occasionally dense prose (not I, though), but he has some nice evocations of the tug-of-war of emotions that existed between the project's scientists and their almost abstract view of the war and the ultimate horror of the project's true purpose. ( )
  BVLawson | May 21, 2014 |

It's the height of the Manhattan Project and one of the security officers at Los Alamos is murdered in circumstances which suggest a gay quarrel. But the project's military head wants to cover all possibilities and seconds intelligence officer Mike Connolly, an NYC investigative journalist in peacetime, to check that everything is as the cops think it is and there has been no security breach. Connolly does indeed find the waters are far murkier than anyone had thought possible; and in the process of his investigation enters into a very physical adulterous liaison with Emma, the English wife of one of the German scientists engaged in the project. While the historical details seem extremely authentic, including the portrayals of Oppenheimer (a major supporting player in the story) and some of the other physicists, and while the detection part of it all is absorbingly handled, I could have done with a little less of the love story; while that obsessive mutual infatuation is extremely convincingly depicted, I could have done with a bit less wordage devoted to it -- on grounds analogous to the truism that lovers' conversations and banter are a lot more interesting to the lovers themselves than they are to anyone else.

One theme extremely pertinent to us today that came through loud and clear concerned the deadening effect of paranoid, over-eager security: historically, as we know, it hindered work on the project (and later Teller, shown in this book as an egocentric shit, was able to use it to destroy Oppie's career in a foretaste of Swiftboatery); here we see it having the effect of psychological handcuffs on Connolly as he attempts to solve the case, forcing him much of the time to be working against the efforts of the official security hierarchy.

I've made a note to go looking for further novels by Kanon, because I did enjoy this, despite the qualification mentioned above.
( )
  JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
so-so, highly-sexed murder mystery set in the Manhattan Project; highly contrived
  FKarr | Apr 10, 2013 |
I'm reading his novels out of order and just got to the first one here, Los Alamos. It is a mix of a period piece and a police procedural. He's got the period and setting nailed. His stock male and female protagonists are by now familiar to me. They are old Studio Hollywood to a T. The hard knuckled truth seeker [think Bogart as Sam Spade] and the damaged femme fatale [think Becall opposite him]. The ending is lame but less so than his norm [strange - he gets worse with practice on those]. All in all it is an most enjoyable read and for a change you are not sure of the true villains until the end. Loses one star for too much emphasis on the love affair but that could just be my taste. I will accept gratuitous sex scenes on HBO as without them the drama series I enjoy [Game of Thrones, Rome, Wire etc.] don't get made. In a novel, graphic sex hasn't been especially shocking for decades, so I expect the scenes to actually advance the plot. In my opinion he has more of them than he needs. Your mileage may vary. ( )
  agingcow2345 | Jul 9, 2012 |
Uneven. Not as good as his later book "The Good German" ( )
  Tybeemiller | Jun 15, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0440224071, Mass Market Paperback)

A successful thriller tells an exciting, satisfying story and lets us look at the lives of some interesting people in an environment either totally new or freshly observed. Former publishing executive Joseph Kanon's first novel does all of that, and adds a layer of acute perception about recent history that immediately vaults it up into the hallowed heights of John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Charles McCarry's The Tears of Autumn--thrillers that deserve space next to Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. In the spring of 1945, as the war in Europe is coming to an end, a former police reporter turned Army Intelligence agent named Mike Connolly arrives on the high mesa above Santa Fe, New Mexico, where J. Robert Oppenheimer and a team of scientists are rushing to finish their atomic bomb. A security man has been found battered to death, and Connolly's job is to see if it is anything more than the sordid sex crime it appears to be. Using a devilishly clever mixture of real and fictional characters, Kanon spins out a story that manages to be audacious, persuasive--and totally engrossing.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:31 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A spy thriller on the making of the atom bomb. The protagonist, counter-intelligence officer Michael Connolly, investigates the murder of a security officer at the Los Alamos compound in 1940s New Mexico. He has an affair with the wife of a foreign physicist and uncovers a spy at the highest level. A first novel.… (more)

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