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One and one half moon gifTop Publications (Paperback), ISBN 0-9666366-4-3
Los Alamos, New Mexico, July 1945. A bomb named Trinity blasts humankind into the atomic age. Five young scientists in the Trinity Project toast the success with fine cognac. The scientists preserve a second bottle intended for consolation if the bomb bombed. Writing their names on the label, the men pledge the last living group member will open the bottle, drinking to Trinity and his four late comrades. 

Book: Lynnette Baughman, A Spy WithinLos Alamos, New Mexico, late November/early December 1999. The 1945 pact generates deadly fallout in the here and now -- murders, spying, blackmail and greed. A Spy Within by Lynnette Baughman tells the tale. 

While researching a book on the Trinity Project, Los Alamos residents Rose Hulle and Patrice Kelsey discover the "Last Man Bottle" legend and grow curious about a 1945 spy, code-named "Perseus." One night Rose and Patrice meet with one of the "Last Man Bottle" survivors, now in a nursing home. The Trinity survivor describes the "Last Man Bottle" pact and reveals crucial information about spies who sent Russia bomb-building secrets.  

As the women drive home, their project turns deadly. A snowstorm hides a car following them. Suddenly, headlights appear through the blinding snow. The vehicle pushes Rose's car through a guardrail. The car, with Rose and Patrice inside, plummets down a canyon wall. Only Patrice, a reporter for the Los Alamos Guardian, survives. 

A grieving Patrice investigates. A second death, only hours after she and Rose took the plunge, convinces Patrice "the game is afoot." 

Ferreting out the cause of the seemingly related deaths, Patrice stumbles over a clever but confusing present-day conspiracy. Unfortunately, the new mystery bears only the most tenuous connection to the "Last Man Bottle" and "Perseus" plots that opened the book, and the abrupt shift in focus disrupts the story. The novel also suffers from a lack of consistency and focus, especially in the areas of character and narrative drive.  

Baughman succeeds in endowing her major characters with three-dimensional qualities. But Baughman's minor characters, including some crucial to the plot, lack depth. This defect requires the reader to page back to identify them. 

A successful mystery/suspense novel grabs the reader from the outset and never lets go. A Spy Within starts slowly and dawdles. Extraneous scenes dissipate the excitement. For example, Baughman describes two dinners in detail, including their preparation. Neither dinner furthers the plot. Other "dead" scenes include a reception for a Santa Fe museum's new art wing and anti-nuke demonstrations. The characters introduced in these scenes add nothing to the plot, and the red herrings they provide fail to enhance the mystery or increase the number of possible suspects.  

By the same token, scenes or explanations needed to provide foundation for the plot's unexpected twists and turns never occur. At the same time, the detail lavished on the extraneous characters and relationships introduced in the dinners and demonstrations further sidetracks the reader. 

This reader also wondered how Patrice could run, wrestle, fight and maneuver -- on ledges -- with a broken arm in a cast, fractured ribs and a concussion. Nothing seems to be beyond Patrice. She even manages to pursue and capture her true love during the investigation. No down time for this woman! 

Meanwhile, important points remain unresolved. For example, If anyone discovers Larry's motive for collecting pet snakes, especially the python, please, let me know. And did anybody ever drink that 55-year-old cognac? 

Lynn I. Miller

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