Benedict adeptly brings forward another accomplished, intriguing, and unjustly overlooked or oversimplified real-life woman in a welcoming and involving historical novel. Here she returns to the realm of science, where she began with The Other Einstein (2016), to fictionalize the life of English chemist and X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin. Readers are privy to Rosalind's inner world as she refuses to be deterred by family objections to her nontraditional life or derailed by the sexism she encounters in academia. She thrives in a congenial lab in Paris, where she makes extraordinary breakthroughs, falls in problematic love, and ignores cautions about working with radiation. Back in England, Rosalind, as Benedict so vividly elucidates, makes groundbreaking discoveries of the molecular structure of viruses and DNA, only to have Francis Crick and James Watson take credit for her work. Benedict subtly foreshadows Rosalind's death at 37 from ovarian cancer while conveying her vitality, conviction, and passion as she designs and conducts exacting experiments, writes and presents numerous significant papers, travels, and climbs mountains. Tough, forthright, and assiduous, Rosalind insists on doing science right and for the right reasons. Readers inspired to learn more about Franklin will enjoy Howard Markel's biography, The Secret of Life (2021).
Following The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, Benedict shines a light in this underwhelming story on Rosalind Franklin, the British chemist and X-ray crystallographer who dedicated her short life to uncovering the DNA molecule's structure. Rosalind begins researching X-rays in 1947 at a Paris lab where men and women are treated equally. Entranced by mentor Jacques Mering, she's about to return his romantic overtures when he mentions he's married. His subsequent affair with a new researcher is the catalyst for Rosalind to give notice and find a position in London. There she runs into staid British attitudes about women in the workplace and contempt for her work, which is now centered on DNA. The author details Rosalind's many run-ins with colleague Maurice Wilkins, who is in cahoots with molecular biologists James Watson and Francis Crick at a rival lab. In fact, the now-famed duo win the race to construct a DNA molecule model by essentially stealing years of Rosalind's painstaking work. The author spends a lot of time hammering on the well-known misogyny Rosalind faced, and tries to explicate her subject's discoveries; on the latter, she achieves varying degrees of success. Much has been written about the real Franklin, and unlike Benedict's other fictional chronicles of historical women, this doesn't add a whole lot to the story. (Jan.)
Best-seller Mitchard (The Deep End of the Ocean, the inaugural pick for Oprah's book club) sets the tone for her suspenseful new novel with its opening line: "I was picking my son up at the prison gates when I spotted the mother of the girl he had murdered." Thea tells the story, past and present, of her son Stefan and how he killed his beloved girlfriend Belinda. Belinda's mother, Jill, had been a close friend of Thea's, until the murder shattered multiple lives. As Stefan and Thea try to move forward, they're hassled by violent protestors and viciously stalked. The novel takes on a tinge of mystery when Thea starts getting strange phone calls from a young woman who "knows everything" about the night of the murder and says to tell Stefan "I'm sorry." Who is this caller, and what does she know? And what happened that awful night? Mitchard's emotional yet precise writing sets readers firmly in the story, amid the Wisconsin weather and the characters, from Thea's calm football coach husband to her not- so-sympathetic colleagues at the university where she teaches. VERDICT An engaging journey through redemption, forgiveness, and a mother's devotion.--Beth Gibbs, Davidson, NC
Dr. Rosalind Franklin, whose pivotal role in the discovery of DNA was overlooked, gets her due in Benedict's scholarly novel. The story begins in 1947, with Franklin's Paris period. After the unwelcoming attitude of London's scientific community, the atmosphere of the Paris lab is exhilarating for the 26-year-old chemist. There, her gender and bluntness are not held against her, and she fits right in with her fellow researchers. Her expertise in X-ray crystallography, a technique for documenting molecular structures, is honed while studying coal and carbons. But in 1951, a distracting obsession with her womanizing supervisor, Jacques Mering, whom she wisely rebuffs, drives her back to London and a fellowship at King's College, where she deploys crystallography to map DNA molecules. Her path crosses those of other DNA sleuths, including her fractious colleague Maurice Wilkins and Francis Crick and James Watson, two Cambridge researchers who will later claim all the glory and the Nobel Prize. Though her minute detailing of Franklin's experiments, not to mention the data-freighted dialogue, can be eye-glazing, Benedict's conclusions are sound: Franklin is way ahead of the men in verifying the structure of DNA and its helix shape. But Franklin's methodical habits in amassing data work against her in the race to take credit for her 4 groundbreaking discoveries. The men, especially Wilkins, who undermines her at every turn, and Watson, who's not above snooping in her workspace, don't share Franklin's qualms about publishing results based on incomplete research. After leaving what would now be described as the hostile work environment at King's for Birkbeck College, Franklin's work on RNA paves the way for antiviral vaccines. But the denouement drags as Benedict seems unsure whether her protagonist should bridle at her unfair treatment or simply move on, as the real Franklin seems to have done, leaving her scores to be settled by others, posthumously. The cancer that killed Franklin in 1958 may have been attributable to long-term exposure to X-rays--like many of her peers, she was cavalier about safety precautions. Wise behavior seldom makes for electrifying fiction. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.