Act of God

Act of God

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by Susan R. Sloan

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More than 200 people—including children—are killed when an extremist bombs a Seattle family clinic. A naval officer is arrested and attorney Dana McAuliffe is assigned to defend him. A conspiracy soon brews from the case—with Dana as an unwitting pawn.


More than 200 people—including children—are killed when an extremist bombs a Seattle family clinic. A naval officer is arrested and attorney Dana McAuliffe is assigned to defend him. A conspiracy soon brews from the case—with Dana as an unwitting pawn.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This explosive new novel by the author of An Isolated Incident takes aim at both sides of the abortion debate as it follows the trial of an all-American suspect in an abortion clinic bombing. Seattle defense lawyer Dana McAuliffe is horrified when the Seattle Family Services Center, known as Hill House, is destroyed in a mid-morning bomb blast that kills and maims hundreds. Dubbed an abortion clinic by the media, but primarily a maternity ward, day-care center and domestic counseling and homeless support unit, Hill House becomes the focus of abortion rights and pro-life extremists who try to skew the trial's outcome to further their causes. Dana's shock turns to chagrin when the senior partner at her firm assigns her to defend bombing suspect Corey Latham, a submarine lieutenant whose wife aborted at Hill House. Arrested by the DA and demonized by the media, Corey is assumed guilty by Dana's colleagues, the surviving victims, extremists on both sides and at first even by Dana herself. Meanwhile Dana's personal life collapses as she becomes immersed in the trial and a tabloid reporter pulls a damning secret from her best friend. Rainy Seattle and a murderous political climate lend the perfect backdrop to Sloan's nail-biting plot turns, which make up for her sometimes predictable characterizations. Though Sloan impugns radicals on both sides of the debate, she also suggests that the power of the abortion rights adversaries is as menacing as the bomb itself. The provocative final twists may ruffle feathers. Major ad/promo. (Apr.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The Seattle Family Services Center, or Hill House, is a general purpose health clinic that provides care for the homeless, counseling, ob/gyn services (including abortion), and daycare for some 50 babies and toddlers. On a busy day in February, with approximately 250 people inside, a bomb goes off. The building is destroyed, and some 176 people are killed. Under extreme pressure from the media, the public, and the political candidates in the upcoming election, the police arrest a suspect who is not a convincing terrorist. He is a young naval officer, newly married, and a devout Christian, and though the evidence against him is largely circumstantial, public opinion has already convicted him. Dana McAuliffe, junior partner in a prestigious Seattle law firm, is assigned to the case, despite her reservations. Abortion and anti-abortion factions keep the trial in the media, while political candidates on both sides of the issue secretly pay the lawyers. The story ends with a twist or two, although expert listeners will have it figured out before its conclusion. Sloan (Guilt by Association) vividly describes the courtroom drama as it unfolds, as well as the complex emotions and machinations surrounding guilt, innocence, and "reasonable doubt." Well read by actress Pamela Nyberg, this is recommended for general fiction collections.-Joanna M. Burkhardt, Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Univ. of Rhode Island, Providence Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A standard legal thriller padded nearly to epic extent, this about a young man who stands trial for the bombing of an abortion clinic in. Sloan's breezy, banal prose recalls the question Noel Coward allegedly asked Edna Ferber: Do you whistle while you write? But, like Ferber, Sloan (An Isolated Incident, 1998, etc.) can hook a reader despite pedestrian writing. She lands her bait when she brings on Corey Dean Latham. Latham is the only suspect Seattle police can arrest for destroying the Family Services Center and leaving nearly 200 dead. But no way, attorney Dana McAuliffe thinks, did the young, clean-shaven, blue-eyed naval officer from Iowa do it. Not even if he was steamed when his wife aborted their child without telling him. McAuliffe takes his case. Onto the scene come Larry King, Dan Rather, Barbara Walters (interviewing the boy's parents), pro-lifers, anti-abortionists, a panel of jurors, survivors of the bombing, two presidential candidates, assorted family members, and two homeless men. A keen attorney, Dana pretty much sails through the rather uncomplicated trial. But out-of-court events threaten Dana and her case. Someone from McAullife's prestigious law firm may be tampering with the jurors. With Latham conveniently incarcerated, his wife is getting cozy with an old flame. And a sleazy tabloid reporter is seducing Dana's needy friend Judith for the dirt on Dana. He learns that when Dana was in line for a major promotion at her firm, she, too, aborted a child and didn't tell her husband. The story breaks and Dana's husband leaves her. Summing up the explosive issues of the case for the jury, Dana makes the understated observation that there are two sides to the story. Asomewhat surprising coda underscores her point. From voir dire to verdict, the reader can whistle right along.

Product Details

Hachette Book Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.38(d)
Age Range:
13 Years

Read an Excerpt

Act of God

By Susan R. Sloan

Warner Books

Copyright © 2002 Susan R. Sloan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-446-61260-X

Chapter One

He worked quickly but with extreme caution, knowing that one false move could prove fatal. Wearing several layers of latex gloves and a surgical mask, he powdered the correct measure of aspirin tablets with a mortar and pestle, added the appropriate amount of methyl alcohol, and then proceeded to whisk vigorously until the fine granules began to dissolve in the liquid.

He had chosen his product carefully. It had taken him two weeks to find a reasonably anonymous, out-of-the-way filling station with a methyl pump, and to collect enough cheap, unbuffered aspirin, being sure to buy no more than one bottle at a time from any supermarket or drugstore or quick-stop shop within a twenty-mile radius of Seattle. He then drove well out of the city to acquire the quantity of fertilizer he needed. Lastly, he made the rounds of auto supply stores, traveling as far north as Bellingham and as far south as Olympia to purchase the batteries, one battery per shop.

And all along the way, he was careful to pay for everything with cash, leaving no credit trail. After that, it was simply a waiting game-waiting for those blocks of time, like now, when he could steal into the garage and work undisturbed.

As soon as the aspirin was sufficiently whisked, he began to filter out whatever undissolved powder remained in the alcohol, repeating the process again and again until the liquid was clear and he could pour it into a Pyrex dish and set it aside.

Next, he turned to the battery, draining the sulfuric acid from it into a glass beaker. Granted, this was an extra step, when he could simply have bought the required amount of acid, but he decided it was far less conspicuous.

He took an old electric frying pan, retrieved from a thrift store for just this purpose, and filled it with cooking oil, which he heated to exactly one hundred and fifty degrees. As soon as the alcohol in the Pyrex dish had evaporated, he added the acetylsalicylic acid crystals that had formed in the dish to the sulfuric acid, and placed the beaker in the warm cooking oil, letting it sit there until the crystals dissolved. Then he removed the beaker from the oil and very slowly began to add the sodium nitrate, being careful not to let the foam overflow.

There was a real element of danger to what he was doing if he didn't do it properly, but the procedure couldn't have been simpler. All he had to do was follow the recipe that was available to anyone with access to the Internet, skipping over the disclaimers that popped up every second sentence about how illegal it was to do what the author of the recipe was describing be done in step-by-step detail.

After cooling the mixture slightly, he dumped it into a measure of crushed ice and water and watched as brilliant yellow crystals began to develop. He processed the crystals according to the instructions, then pulverized them into face powder consistency. The final step was to mix the powder with the specified amounts of wax and Vaseline, and pack the plastique into a glass container.

He checked his watch. The entire process had taken a little over three hours, just as it should have, just as it had taken to prepare each of the other containers that now lined the shelves of a locked cabinet in the far corner of the garage.

He set about cleaning up after himself, placing the frying pan, the Pyrex dish, the beaker, the whisk, and the remaining materials in a plastic garbage bag for discreet disposal into the depths of Puget Sound. Then he washed down the garage as though it were a surgical suite.

This was the last batch he had to make. Now it was time to put it all together, to remove the plastique from the glass receptacles, fill the duffel bags, attach the detonator he had fashioned from a light bulb, and affix the clever timing device he had found on the front seat of his car two days ago.

There was an informal rule observed by the people with whom he had come in contact: admit to nothing and involve no one else in what you're doing. Still, the timer had been provided to him-perhaps, he decided, as a form of silent affirmation.

He loaded the finished product into his vehicle, covered it with a blanket, and went into the house, to sit down in front of the television set as though he had been in his chair all evening. Then, as he habitually did on a night before work, he watched the news and went to bed.

But he didn't sleep. He waited until almost midnight, when the breathing beside him was deep and regular, and then he got up, slipped silently into his clothes, and left the house.

The night was cold and damp, quite typical of February. He climbed into his car, shifted the gear into neutral, and let the vehicle roll down the driveway and out into the street before starting up the engine. During the past weeks, he had made several dry runs, testing different routes to and from his destination, timing himself, and checking traffic until he was satisfied. Now he turned confidently onto the route he had chosen, circling around the back of Queen Anne to Denny Way, forking right onto Boren Avenue, and driving up First Hill. Reaching Spring Street, he made a little jog across Minor, then turned down Madison, and parked.

At this time of night, the street was deserted, the shops and restaurants closed. The area, appropriately nicknamed "Pill Hill" some years ago, was dominated by Seattle's major hospitals, and the swing shift had given way to the graveyard shift over an hour ago. He had planned for that, of course.

A splendid Victorian mansion, set off by carefully manicured lawns, occupied the northeast corner of Madison and Boren. He was relieved to see that the building was dark and silent. The security guards who protected the grounds during business hours were gone, and no night watchman was on duty. It meant there were no late evening activities in progress, a glitch that would have significantly altered his schedule.

Neither of the two gates in the high iron fence that surrounded the house was locked at this hour, a foolhardy practice he had determined in advance. Not that a locked entry would have stopped him, of course, it would just have slowed him down, and perhaps made him a bit more vulnerable.

He climbed out of his car, looking in all directions to make sure there was no one in sight. Then he hefted his plastique-filled duffel bags and carried them through the Madison Street gate. Just inside the fence, a high hedge of laurel bordered the property, making him all but invisible from the street. Nonetheless, he wasted no time. He went quickly along the path at the side of the building to the basement access he had spotted during one of his exploratory visits, pulled open the trapdoor, descended the concrete steps, and set about positioning the duffel bags in exactly the right place for maximum effectiveness. Then he checked one more time that the detonator was properly connected.

The very last thing he did before leaving the scene was to check the timer, just to reassure himself that it was set for two o'clock, and that the little green indicator beside the AM designation was lit. Then he got back into his car and drove away.


Excerpted from Act of God by Susan R. Sloan Copyright ©2002 by Susan R. Sloan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Act of God 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Act of God was one the most Action Packed Legal Thriller about an bombing trial I have read. I hope her next book is good too.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Susan has only written three books and all three are brilliant and absorbing,continually keeping the reader guessing. I feel she really does write against type which is refreshing and keeps you turning the pages but has a real surprise in the endings. Recommend highly
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Seattle Family Services Center, a community facility offering social and health services to women, children, families, the homeless, and which includes both an abortion clinic and a day care center, becomes the target of a bomber. Almost 200 men, women, and children are killed. A clean-cut young naval officer is charged with the crime, becoming overnight the most hated/feared man in the U.S., and Dana McAuliffe, his female attorney who believes in his innocence, must fight against a controversial, but largely circumstantial, case in an effort to win his freedom. Her fight becomes far more than the defense of a high-visibility defendant, however; played out against the backdrop of presidential election year politics, many different factions jump on the bandwagon in efforts to affect the outcome and twist the trial to benefit their own agendas. The extreme voices on either side will stop at nothing to further their goals, sweeping Dana into a tangle of intrigue that stretches far beyond the courtroom. Caught between these warring factions, whose goals do not include the notion of compromise or any concern for the greater good, Dana watches as her life is torn apart. This is a cautionary tale so timely, it is almost chilling. Extremists, it is telling us, don't want PEACE -- they just want to WIN. It eerily reflects the problems our world faces today in such seemingly impossible situations as foreign and domestic terrorism, and the situation in the MIddle East. The use of the abortion issue as an allegory works superbly, and the many-layered subject matter stirs one to think, think, and think again. Bravo -- a brilliant, important work, stunning in depth for contemporary fiction, a breathtaking ending, impossible to put down, a must-read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although I am not usually a fiction reader, I found this book especially entertaining, full of suspense. I thought it was every bit as haunting as her first book, Guilt by Association. She has me hooked. When is her next book due?