27 November 2013

Review: Critical Reaction by Todd M Johnson

Solid Legal Thriller

Attorney Emily Hart is surprised to receive a telephone call from an old college friend requesting her help on a case against his employer—he believes he has been exposed to radioactive materials, a claim his employer denies. It’s more than she can manage, so she asks her father to assist. Ryan Hart is an experienced courtroom attorney who has lost his will to fight since the death of his wife while Emily was in college.

Kieran Mullaney is an employee at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, a site that manufactured plutonium in the days of the cold war. It is now closed, with the only employees involved in monitoring the site and the buildings to ensure they are safe before the entire complex is demolished. But there have been a series of ‘accidents’ at the plant, and it seems there is something more going on…

Critical Reaction is a combination of Karen Silkwood and Erin Brockovich written in the style of John Grisham, with a slight Christian flavour. It’s well-plotted with a (mostly) good cast of characters, and reinforces why I’m glad to live in a country where our natural geography means we don’t need nuclear power plants.

And that was the bug for me in Critical Reaction. There’s a secret project going on at Hanford, and the author took great pains to point out that the person within the plant managing the secret project was a New Zealander. This didn’t ring true on several levels (and I’m not just saying that because I’m a Kiwi), and because I didn't believe it, it took away from the suspense. What didn't I believe?

I don’t understand why a Kiwi would go to America for university when a US college education is so much more expensive than here. I don’t understand how he was allowed to study in America, let alone get a job—it’s hard enough to get an American study visa, let alone a work permit. I don’t understand how someone who was brought up in a nuclear-free country would get a job in the nuclear industry. Between David Lange’s famous speech and watching The Simpsons, we’re grateful for our hydroelectric power schemes.

And no matter how estranged he was from his family, I don’t understand why he’s not in contact with his family when it’s made clear they lived in one of the areas of Christchurch most affected by the 2011 earthquakes (at the time of writing, Manchester Street, where he supposedly grew up, has only just been reopened). It made it difficult for me to take the character seriously.

But if I ignored that, Critical Reaction is a solid legal thriller set in the nuclear industry, underpinned by some good suspense in the form of a secret project the company wants to ensure stays a secret. No matter what.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Todd M Johnson at his website.

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