WINNER OF THE EDGAR AWARD FOR BEST FIRST NOVEL
It is the spring of 1945, and in a dusty, remote community, the world’s most brilliant minds have come together in secret. Their mission: to split an atom and end a war. But among those who have come to Robert Oppenheimer ’s “enchanted campus” of foreign-born scientists, baffled guards, and restless wives is a simple man in search of a killer. Michael Connolly has been sent to the middle of nowhere to investigate the murder of a security officer on the Manhattan Project. But amid the glimmering cocktail parties and the staggering genius, Connolly will find more than he bargained for. Sleeping in a dead man’s bed and making love to another man’s wife, Connolly has entered the moral no-man’s-land of Los Alamos. For in this place of brilliance and discovery, hope and horror, Connolly is plunged into a shadowy war with a killer—as the world is about to be changed forever.
Praise for Los Alamos
“A magnificent work of fiction . . . a love story inside a murder mystery inside perhaps the most significant story of the twentieth century: the making of the atomic bomb.”—The Boston Globe
“Compelling . . . [Joseph Kanon] pulls the reader into a historical drama of excitement and high moral seriousness.” —The New York Times
“Thrilling . . . Kanon writes with the sure hand of a veteran and does a marvelous job.”—The Washington Post Book World
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A Mrs. Rosa Ortiz found the body. She was used to getting up with the sun, but this morning she was early, too early even for mass, so she took the long way, cutting through the park along the Alameda, where mist was still rising from the old riverbed. If she had been hurrying she might have missed it, but as it happened she was walking slowly, enjoying the first light. She had not heard it rain during the night, so the moisture on the trees surprised her, and she stopped once to look at the shine on the leaves. The sky was already a sharp cloudless blue, promising heat. It was when she glanced down from the sky, temporarily blinded, that she saw the shoes.
The legs were sticking out from the bushes, and her first impulse was to hurry away and let him sleep it off. Pobrecito, too drunk to come in out of the rain, she thought as she passed. But it was a disgrace all the same, sleeping by the Alameda, like the Indians hunched over in the plaza, pretending to sell blankets. Then she stopped and turned around. The legs were wrong, twisted one on top of the other. No one could sleep like that. She moved closer to the bush, slowly pushed a branch aside, then gasped. In that second she took in the head, splotched red from the blood, with its mouth fixed open, still trying to draw in air. It was the only recognizable feature left in his face. But what shocked her was his body. The trousers had been pulled down below the knees, exposing his genitals. Why? Mrs. Ortiz had not seen a man since her husband died and never one in public. It seemed incomprehensible to her, this exposure of flesh. She clutched her shawl and, in a gesture centuries old, crossed herself. This was what evil felt like; you could feel it around you, taste it in the air. The ground itself might be soaked with blood, spreading under her. Dizzy, she grabbed the bush to steady herself, but the branch shook its drops onto the body, spattering rain on his private parts, and she backed away. She took little gulps of air and looked around her, expecting to be attacked, as if the scene before her had just happened. But there was no one. The noise in her head was her own breathing. The Alameda itself was quiet and fresh with morning. The world had not noticed.
She hurried toward the cathedral, her mind a jumble. She knew she should tell the police, but her English was poor and what would they think? The man was Anglo, she could tell that from her shameful glance at his body, and that might mean even more trouble. Perhaps it was best to say nothing--no one had seen her, after all. Someone else was bound to find him and go to the police. But now she kept seeing the body in front of her, naked, exposed. She had not even had the decency to cover him. And of course God had seen her. So she decided, as so often in the past, to talk to the priest.
But Father Bernardo was already preparing for mass when she arrived and she couldn't interrupt that, so she knelt with the others and waited. The congregation was small, the usual group of old women draped in shawls, atoning for blameless lives. Her neighbors must have felt that she was especially devout that morning, for she prayed noisily and sometimes even seemed to sway. Surrounded by candles, the familiar words, the solid feel of her beads, she began to feel calmer, but the feeling of disquiet would not go away. She had done nothing, but now somehow she had the ache of a guilty secret. Why had she looked at him so long? This was what bothered her most. She should have turned her eyes away; there was nothing so remarkable about a man, not even one without a foreskin. But she had never seen this before, and it troubled her that in all that scene of horror, this was what she had noticed. No one would have to know that, certainly not Father Bernardo. She would not have to describe the body; it would be enough to say she saw a dead man. If she said anything at all.
So it was another hour before Mrs. Ortiz approached the priest with her story and another hour after that before he telephoned the police, in English, and a car was dispatched. By that time the dew had dried along the Alameda and the day was hot.
Sergeant O'Neill had never seen a corpse before. There had been murders in Santa Fe, mostly Mexicans with knives solving domestic arguments, but he had never been assigned one. The last real murder, during a jewel robbery, had happened while he was fishing in the mountains. So the man in the park was his first official corpse, and it made him sick.
"You all right, Tom?" Chief Holliday asked him while the photographers snapped pictures. Inevitably, Holliday was "Doc."
O'Neill nodded, embarrassed. "He's a mess, all right. Where's Doc Ritter, anyway? Don't you think we should cover him up?"
Chief Holliday was crouched near the body, turning the head with a stick he'd picked up.
"Don't be so squeamish--he doesn't mind. Christ, look at this." The back of the man's head was crusted over with blood and pulp. "Here's where he got it. The face looks like decoration--maybe a few good kicks, just for the hell of it."
O'Neill was writing on his pad. "Weapon."
"A blunt instrument. What do you think?"
"Hammer, wrench, could have been anything. Anyway, it cracked his skull. Funny, though, there's not much blood around. You'd think to look at him he wouldn't have any left."
"It rained last night. Maybe it washed away."
"Maybe. No ID. Boys find anything further along?"
"Nothing. They've been checking up and down the Alameda. Broken bushes here where we found him, but that's it. Can't you at least shut his mouth?"
Holliday looked up and grinned. "Not now I can't. Take it easy, O'Neill. Once the doc gets here, we'll haul him off. You get used to it."
"No wallet, I suppose? Keys? Anything?"
"Not a thing."
"Great. John Doe for sure."
"Yeah?" Holliday said distractedly, turning the head back gently.
"What about the pants?"
"What about them?"
"I mean, what the hell is a guy doing in the park at night with his pants down?"
"What would anybody be doing? Taking a leak, probably."
"No. You don't pull your pants down below your knees to take a leak."
Holliday looked at him, amused. "You'll make detective yet, Tommy. Sounds right to me."
"Look, a guy's out at night in the park bushes. He's got his pants down and his head kicked in. What the hell do you think happened?"
"You mean like that guy in Albuquerque? We never had nothing like that here."
"We do now. Pretty sight, isn't it?" Holliday said, gesturing toward the man's groin. "Looks like he's been kicked there too." He moved the testicles to one side with the stick. "A little discolored, don't you think?"
"I wouldn't know."
"Well, what color are yours? Come to think of it, maybe they're blue too. Anyway, they shouldn't look like this. He's circumcised, by the way."
"I mean for the report."
"Oh," O'Neill said, jotting it down. "Time of death?"
"We'd better let the doc tell us that. You got rigor, but I don't know what effect the rain would have on that. Cold too, last night."
"I can't remember that far back," O'Neill said, wiping his forehead in the unexpected heat.
"This is interesting," Holliday said, poking tentatively at the man's mouth. "He's got a full plate here. No teeth at all. Kinda young for false teeth."
"Well, now at least we got a motive. Probably isn't used to them and bit down too hard on the guy's dick."
By the time the coroner arrived, O'Neill had already completed the area search. "Shame about the rain. I'll get Fred to look downstream just in case anything got thrown in the river. Like his wallet."
"Yeah, if God wants to throw you a bone this week," Holliday said. "Don't figure on the wallet. Keys, though. Funny, taking his keys."
"What have you got here, Ben?" Doc Ritter said, using Holliday's real name. "Been a long time since I've been called out on a murder."
"Well, you tell me. Careful of the clothes, though--I'm still hoping to get some prints."
"After the rain?"
"Well, I can hope. We sure don't have much else. John Doe with his head smashed in and his pants down."
The coroner looked at him.
"Yeah, I know. Sounds like that case down in Albuquerque. I guess the papers will be all over us, but let's try to keep them out of it until I can talk to the boys down there. We could use a head start."