A review of The Bitter Past by Bruce Borgos, coming on July 18

A compelling mix of spy thriller and mystery…

Long ago, on a pre-pandemic trip to Las Vegas, my husband and I visited the National Atomic Testing Museum, which showcases the history of the dawn of the nuclear age and the bomb tests that occurred at the nearby Nevada Test Site.   Although going to a museum may not be what most folks do when in Las Vegas (!!!), we loved the exhibits and we learned a ton there.   So I was intrigued by the background and setting of The Bitter Past, and was really pleased to be offered an advance copy to review for my blog.  

And in spite of a couple of little “wrinkles”, The Bitter Past did not disappoint.  It’s a compelling mix of a spy thriller, mostly set in the 1950s heyday of atomic testing in the desert, and an investigative mystery set in the present.   Each has a different feel, but both were intriguing, and kept me turning the pages.   Often when a book changes back and forth between two timelines, one is much stronger than the other, so that I end up feeling a bit impatient when switching away to the less compelling narrative.    Bruce Borgos does a nice job of telling both stories, however, and weaving them together in a very readable way, so that wasn’t an issue here.   He also does a great job of recreating the mood of the Cold War, which had Americans viewing the atomic tests as absolutely necessary to keep the US safe from the Soviet Union, and then contrasting that with today’s understanding of the Downwinders who were affected by the explosions’ fallout in horrific ways.   And of course, at the end, everything comes together in some quite unexpected twists and turns. 

As for the little wrinkles:  I found the main protagonist, Sheriff Porter Beck, his small family, and his team, to be believable and likeable characters, and Beck himself has a very nicely honed sense of humor.   But somehow his relationship (???) with modern-day FBI agent Sana Locke didn’t quite ring true for me, and was even a bit annoying.  I have my fingers crossed that this may resolve if there are further books in the series, and I certainly hope there will be.   And the other little wrinkle is that there are some rather violent scenes in The Bitter Past, especially right at the beginning, so if that sort of thing bothers you, be forewarned. It’s well worth persisting beyond the initial chapter, but just a heads-up.

In closing, I want to thank the publishers, Minotaur Books, and NetGalley, for the advance review copy.    It was much appreciated!    And one final note:  once I finished reading, and reached the acknowledgments at the end, I was amused to see a thank-you to the Executive Director of the National Atomic Testing Museum…which is what started my interest in The Bitter Past in the first place…

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2 thoughts on “A review of The Bitter Past by Bruce Borgos, coming on July 18”

  1. In a bit of a coincidence, this month’s free book from the University of Chicago Press is about the Atomic Age/Cold War as well, although with a different (non-fiction) viewpoint. Life Atomic: A History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine, by Angela NH Creager, appears to be pretty much what it says it is – a history of the US Atomic Energy Commission’s efforts to “harness the power of the atom for peace – advancing medicine, domestic energy, and foreign relations”.

    The webpage for the free book is: https://press.uchicago.edu/books/freeEbook.html

    And although you have to give them your email address, they don’t abuse it.

  2. The Bitter Past is on sale for $2.99 in the US right now, as part of today’s US Kindle Daily Deal, and price-matched at Kobo US. The links in the OP are still good. Probably for today only…

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