Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Cask of Los Alamos, by Cornelia Read

"The Cask of Los Alamos," by Cornelia Read, in Santa Fe Noir, edited by Ariel Gore, Akashic Press, 2020.

The publisher sent me a free copy of this book.

If you were to define stories from Akashic Press's Noir Cities series in one word, which words would show up the most often?  Grim, depressing, violent, affected, suspenseful, cynical...  How about quirky?  Probably not that often.

This story is quirky.  Let's start, reasonably enough, with the first line.

The thousand injuries of Richard Feynman I had borne as best I could. But when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.

If that sentence, together with the title, does not immediately bring a certain short story to mind then you need to enroll immediately in Remedial Mystery Reading 101. 

We are in a historical mystery (also a rarity in the Noir Cities books), not going back to the time of Edgar Allan Poe (except in spirit) but to World War II.  The Manhattan Project is toiling away in New Mexico and our narrator, Thurston, has taken a deep grudge against his fellow physicist.

A good deal of this story is based on Feynman's actual life, and I was amazed to realize how little I had known about it.  For example, the way he chose to watch the first atomic explosion is drawn from life.

Read has combined these true details with her fictional character's plot which is, of course, modeled on Poe's.  She carries off this combination with great panache.  Does Thurston succeed in killing Feynman, turning this into an alternative history story?  Or i this an altogether different type of tale?

Wouldn't you like to know?

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