From Publishers Weekly
Penicillin operates as the source of romance, murder, and melodrama in Belfer's (City of Light
) evocative WWII–era novel. When Life
magazine sends strikingly beautiful photographer Claire Shipley to report on a promising new medication made from green mold, Claire, 36, the single mother of a young son, who lost her daughter to blood poisoning eight years before, is moved by the drug's potential to save lives. She also becomes smitten with resident doctor James Stanton, a man with two interests: penicillin and bedding Claire. But as the war casualties pile up, penicillin becomes an issue of national security and the politics of the drug's production threaten to disrupt the pair's lust-fueled romance, especially when James is sent abroad to oversee human trials of the drug. The pharmaceutical companies—including one owned by Claire's father—realize the financial potential in penicillin, which leads to a hodgepodge of soapy plot twists: suspicious deaths, amnesia, illness, exploitation, and espionage. Belfer handily exploits Claire's photo shoots to add historical texture to the book, and the well-researched scenes bring war-time New York City to life, capturing the anxiety-ridden period. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Through the story of divorced 36-year-old Life photojournalist Claire Shiply, Belfer blends fact and fiction to describe the development of penicillin as a weapon of war in the 1940s. Seeing an early trial of the green-mold medicine—in which a dying man is miraculously cured of his infection, then dies when the medication runs out—Shiply is drawn to the story because of the earlier death of her young daughter from septicemia. She is drawn, too, to head researcher Dr. James Stanton, who is soon tapped to be national scientific coordinator to provide penicillin to treat battlefield infections. While Stanton travels to war zones, Claire is asked by government officials to watch for pharmaceutical companies neglecting production of unpatented penicillin to develop “cousin” antibacterials, even after her wealthy father has taken over one of the companies involved. Belfer (City of Light, 2003) combines life-and-death scenarios, romance, murder, and wartime reality at home and abroad, while satirizing industrialists who profit by dubious means and salve their consciences through philanthropy; and she warns that resistance to antibiotics could return us “to the era when otherwise healthy adults died from a scratch on the knee.” An engrossing and ambitious novel that vividly portrays a critical time in American history. --Michele Leber