Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Stallion Gate - Book Review (Again!)

In the recent "Great Blogger Blackout," the following post was lost and never re-stored. Posting it again for the sake of completeness so if it seems familiar, well, that's because it is. (Funky font brought to you by Facebook, which is a lesson learned, I guess: sending the RSS feed to my Facebook preserved the post. Users of Blogger might be well-served to do something similar with their posts in the event of future blackouts.)

Taking a break from his Arkady Renko novels, Martin Cruz Smith back in the '80s tried his hand at another genre - the World War 2 history genre, I guess you'd call it. Anyway, Stallion Gate it's a fictional treatment of the the development of the atom bomb at Los Alamos with some intrigue about spies thrown in for suspense with a twist of romantic drama to make things more interesting, as if the subject matter alone wasn't interesting enough.

Unfortunately, Smith takes the liberal view that communists really weren't that big a threat to the United States and anyone who thought so was paranoid and foolish. His protagonist, Joe Pena, doesn't take very seriously his assignment to prove that Oppenheimer is a Red and instead the personal becomes political. All that is good and fine, I suppose - LeCarre has made a pretty good living at just this sort of thing - but after 9/11 I don't have the patience for it anymore.

Still, Smith's powers of description are in full force here and he renders the New Mexican landscapes beautifully. He keeps things moving along and works in his research, which I assume is accurate, about the creation of the atomic bomb and the site where it was created in interesting ways. But the ending is ambiguous - did Pena get caught in the atomic blast? It seems so. But since I found him unsympathetic so I really didn't care and I guess that's the real problem with this novel: I just didn't care about the main character. A fatal flaw in any novel.

(Another of the cheap books I bought at the Friends of the Library book sale.)

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