By Lauren Belfer
544 pages; Harper
Lauren Belfer's panoramic new novel is a love story wrapped around a spy story with a pivotal medical breakthrough at its center. A Fierce Radiance begins days after the attack on Pearl Harbor propels the United States into World War II. Claire Shipley, a savvy Life magazine photographer, has been assigned a photo essay on a young father whose life might be saved by the new miracle antibiotic, penicillin. The divorced Claire has a particular interest in the case, both because she is still mourning the death of her 3-year-old daughter from blood poisoning, which the drug might have cured, and because she is drawn to James Stanton, the doctor overseeing its clinical trials. At first Jamie seems perfect; he respects Claire's work and loves her son. But he soon grows preoccupied with the suspicious death of his scientist sister Tia, who was also on the track of new medications. He starts to disappear on secret missions, and is soon presumed dead in an explosion in North Africa. So Claire begins to tend to her own life. She strengthens her ties with her wealthy father, from whom she had been estranged—although he, too, behaves suspiciously—and has a fling with Jamie's colleague Nick, who might or might not be a suspect in Tia's murder. She also plunges into some important government work of her own, photographing companies developing antibiotics for the troops. Talented, determined, and vulnerable, Belfer's Claire proves herself a war hero on the home front.