In 1942 Enrico Fermi and a team of scientists were working on a top secret project called the Manhattan Project. This was the research on developing the atomic bomb done at Stagg Field, the University of Chicago football stadium. The Accidental Agent by Andrew Rosenheim tells the story of a fictional FBI agent who is asked to determine whether or not a Nazi has managed to infiltrate the research group. Many of the scientists in the group were European immigrants and some of their credentials had been difficult to verify. Is it possible that one of them had been recruited as a spy? Jimmy Nessheim had asked for an extended leave from the FBI to attend law school at the University of Chicago. Since he is in the right place and has the perfect cover story, he is asked by his superiors to resume his Special Agent status to observe the scientists’ work. The novel is filled with shadowy characters, including two ex-girlfriends and thugs from his past. As Jimmy tries to understand just how far the Manhattan Project is progressing and if all the scientists involved are who they say they are, all sorts of complications emerge. The book has interesting and understandable details about the nuclear experiment. It also has the noir feel of 1940’s spycraft.
The central character in King of Fear by Drew Chapman is Garrett Reilly, a bond trader who had worked for the government on a secret project which made use of his unique ability to work with numbers. He is no longer working for the government and is mourning the death of his mentor who gave him his position on Wall Street. When a woman assassinated the president of the New York City Federal Bank, she claimed she had been directed by Reilly to do the shooting. This is the beginning of an effort to destroy the American economy. With every federal agent in the country searching for Reilly, he managed to reassemble his team to find out who is trying to destroy America and why. This is a very exciting novel that describes the ways that determined hackers can destroy a nation’s infrastructure. The people on Reilly’s team all have interesting character defects, several that make them effective at anti-terrorism. All sorts of tricky ways to get information are revealed.
Readers are always looking for a thriller as intriguing as Gone Girl or Girl on the Train. A new book that comes close to these with plot twists is The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. Lo Blacklock is employed by a travel magazine in England and has been feeling that she is going nowhere with her career. Her supervisor is pregnant and not feeling that she can tolerate a cruise, so this is Lo’s big break. The cruise will be the maiden voyage of a luxury yacht. There are only ten cabins on the boat and everything is extremely luxurious. The owner, who is a sort of Richard Branson figure, is on board, along with his wife who is recovering from chemotherapy. Lo is a woman who has panic attacks and a bit of a drinking problem. She hopes to excel with a feature article describing the cruise through Scandinavian waters. She is having an experience far beyond an ordinary person’s financial means. Her reputation follows her when she drinks a little too much on the first night and then insists that she thinks she saw a woman fall off the ship. She is also positive that she saw a young woman in Cabin 10, although staff and other passengers insist that no one like that was on the boat. The protagonist deals with her own personal demons as she must cope with very frightening situations. See how soon you can figure out what may have happened and why.
The House of Dreams by Kate Lord Brown is a fictionalized account of Air-Bel, a villa in Marseilles, France. During the early part of WWII, the American Relief Center worked to relocate refugees out of Vichy controlled Marseilles to protect them from Nazi arrest. These people were usually on a list as a “degenerate” artist or someone who had been politically critical of Nazism. Varian Fry was the American journalist who ran the organization that got so many people to safety. The fictional character which the novel focuses on is the renowned artist Gabriel Lambert. He had been provided with an escape route to the US. He is now in his nineties and has become a recluse. Sophie Cass is a New York City journalist who is hoping for an exclusive, revealing interview about the WWII era relationship which he had with her great aunt. Flashbacks tell the story of the real Varian Fry’s heroic efforts and reveal a very complex secret that the fictional artist Lambert had kept for all his life.