Sabotage in the Secret City

Written by Diane Fanning
Review by Ellen Keith

Third in Fanning’s Libby Clark series, Sabotage in the Secret City takes place in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in May 1945. Libby is one of the few female civilian scientists contributing to the Manhattan Project, and she’s forbidden to discuss her work with anyone outside the facility. Her lab, the Betas, is subject to acts of sabotage, including fire, a flood, and rats, which all sounds somewhat Biblical, no? Libby and her fellow scientists, who call themselves the Walking Molecules, had rubbed up against authority before in their two previous outings, so they are the first to fall under suspicion.

Since election day in 2016, I have had a challenging time reading historical fiction set in the World War II era, as so many themes have present-day parallels. This one pushes all my buttons. Libby’s colleagues are arrested by MPs, and although they were taken away in front of her own eyes, the military denies they are being held. When they are eventually released, her friends all tell the same tale (quite stiltedly) of interrogation and accusations of treason.

I’m usually able to jump into a series midway without having read previous books. This one, however, relies too heavily on the reader being familiar with the first two. Libby alludes quite frequently to the events of the first two books being responsible for the relationships the scientists and the military have now. The relationships between scientists are equally tough to suss out. Gary is the cowardly, obstinate one. Teddy is Libby’s boyfriend. Dennis would like to be her boyfriend. I have no idea what roles Gregg, Joe, and Rudy play. Dialogue is overly mannered. “I stammered when I answered” is not how people talk. The mystery itself is ambiguous. An interesting time in our nation’s history, but one not illuminated by this book.