Critical Reaction, by Todd M. Johnson (2013)

Genre: Mystery
Interest Level: Adult
Critical ReactionSet close to home in southeastern Washington state’s Hanford nuclear site, this novel opens with a literal bang: an explosion in the middle of the night, a Native American on horseback in the shadows, and a firm that hides the truth of what happened and the extent of the damage. Kieran Mullaney and Poppy Martin were on shift when the explosion occurred, leaving them with a hacking cough and reassurances they were not exposed to radiation. Kieran, whose father died of leukemia, is convinced he’s being fed lies, and hires college friend now lawyer Emily Hart and her father to sue for the truth. Given the town’s loyalty to Hanford, it’s a daunting task. I loved the backstories in this novel: the chilly relationship between dad and daughter, the trust the community has in the government that this work is for the good of America, and that the firm will not betray their trust, the Native American displacement from the land when Hanford was created. Johnson is a lawyer, but this isn’t really a courtroom drama. It’s a mystery, with a superbly developed plot. He provides enough detail to make the story realistic, but doesn’t lose you in the process – a risk with a story about nuclear science. I loved Ryan Hart’s character, and Johnson develops that very well. A budding romance between Emily and Kieran doesn’t quite ring true to me, and her willingness to disregard ethics is unlikely, I’d argue, especially for such a dedicated lawyer. But her nervousness in a civil courtroom and her anger at her father, unreasonable though it is to Ryan, offer a nice balance to the tension of the mystery itself. The setting is well exploited – I kept checking maps to see if everything made sense geographically, and it does. There are a few quibbles – people “shuffle” an awful lot in this story, and Johnson relies too heavily on “twin braids” when referring to Ted Pollock (he never appears without them being mentioned). A stronger hand at editing is needed. Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and will look for his earlier novel.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17384516-critical-reaction

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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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