For anyone born after 1945, can you imagine a life where getting the smallest cut could mean a life-or-death struggle? Where one lived in simple fear of the common cold because it may turn into something more insidious? Of every change that has occurred during the twentieth century, the mass production of penicillin tops the list among technology that has the greatest impact on human life. Lauren Belfer's A Fierce Radiance explores the pre-penicillin world, giving insight into what life was like before and during the search for the technology that would allow penicillin to become available to the masses rather than an experimental drug given only to the military.A Fierce Radiance has the feel of an old-fashioned thriller. Ms. Belfer takes her time establishing the characters and the plot, allowing the reader to thoroughly immerse him/herself into the story and the time period. The action builds slowly but never drags, making each page a treasure as the reader explores life in the U.S. after Pearl Harbor. The threat of war coming to the U.S. mainland, combined with the shady needs of the government, and the nefarious plans of the pharmaceutical companies enhances the tension to this taut thriller.Speaking of the pharmaceutical companies, even though this is a murder mystery, the true bad guys are those who hope to/did make a fortune on the new types of antibiotics that were created as a result of the search for the next big weapon against infection and diseases. The eagerness with which they are described as willing to charge $200 per shot for something that cost them $0.02 to product is appalling, let alone the lengths they were willing to go to protect their research. The reader is left to extrapolate that very little has changed in the pharmaceutical industry. It is a telling picture of an industry that remains controversial today.A Fierce Radiance is a picturesque novel that hearkens back to a time when people appreciated a well-plotted, well-written drama. The factual portions of the novel are well-researched and intricately intertwined with the fiction, blurring the line between fact and fiction in the most realistic manner. Claire's struggle as a working single mother will resonate well with modern readers, as will her fractured relationship with her ex-husband and her attempt to balance her work with her family. Claire is immensely likable, as a woman who is fragile from her past and current relationships but has a steel backbone when it comes to protecting her own. She proves that a woman does not need a man to protect her or to fulfill her life's purpose, and as much as most readers enjoy a "happily ever after" ending, Claire is forceful enough to thrive without her fairy tale ending. Even with the differences in culture from the U.S. in the 1940s to today, Claire is a strong heroine.A Fierce Radiance is one of those novels I enjoyed from beginning to end. It felt like I was dropped into life after Pearl Harbor and am now able to better appreciate the sacrifices, the fear and anxiety, and the sorrow that filled that time period. Life before antibiotics is virtually unrecognizable, but as Ms. Belfer points out in her afterword, with bacteria becoming more and more resistant to current medications, we very well could one day reach a point where a simple paper cut could mean a life-or-death struggle again. It is a scary notion, and one I can better appreciate after reading this excellent novel. Claire's story fits well with the time period, not romanticizing the war effort or creating happiness during a time period in which very little happiness was occurring. Historical fiction fans, as well as fans of mysteries and thrillers, will definitely enjoy A Fierce Radiance.