Patterson combines serious contemporary issues -- domestic violence, presidential politics, late-term abortion -- with an accessible writing style that has resulted in seven consecutive international best sellers. Deirdre Donahue
Gun control and tort reform are the thorny issues tackled in this political drama, with Patterson hero Kerry Kilcannon ensconced in the White House and planning his marriage to former television journalist Lara Costello. Kilcannon (last glimpsed in Protect and Defend) has been president for less than a year when he is caught up in a potentially disastrous domestic crisis. Lara's sister, Joan, is brutally beaten by her husband, John Bowden, and Kerry, who rescued his own mother from his violent father, lets emotion get the better of him, asking the California DA to intervene. Meanwhile, in the political arena, Kerry is battling an NRA-type group called Sons of the Second Amendment (SSA). When the fuse Kerry lit under John Bowden explodes predictably (Bowden goes on a killing spree in an airport while the Kilcannons are away on their honeymoon), Kerry sees red and goes after the manufacturer of the gun Bowden used. The gun lobby circles wagons around the SSA and pushes a tort-reform bill called the Civil Justice Reform Act, which protects the manufacturers of any "products" from litigation by victims of criminals. Congress kowtows to America's captains of industry, with guns as the focal point: "gun immunity hung in the balance of power between the President and the senator who intended to displace him." This is a Democratic nightmare scenario, and the novel paints a grim picture of the challenges facing gun-control advocates. Patterson is known for his intricate law-and-politics-laced crime fiction, but lawmaking trumps suspense in this novel and may leave his fans wanting for more. Agent, Fred Hill. (Oct.) Forecast: Patterson is a strong supporter of gun control-as he notes in an afterword-and his passion is evident here. Readers seeking pure entertainment may be disappointed, but those with the patience to follow the involved plot will learn much about gun policy debate. Major ad/promo; author tour. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Patterson completes his Kerry Kilcannon trilogy (Protect and Defend, 2000; No Safe Place, 1998) with a harsh, persuasive indictment of the politics that breeds gun violence in America. Newly elected President Kilcannon gets a phone call one night from a woman he's promised to help: Joan Bowden, the First Lady's sister. She's sufficiently frightened to make a call she hates to make. Her husband, who's beaten her repeatedly, has now actually held a gun to her head, convincing her at last that her life and her six-year-old daughter's are at risk. Kilcannon, a former prosecutor, knows about battered wife syndrome, how swiftly and terribly it can escalate, and he attempts to intervene. Tragedy results, setting the stage for the epic struggle-fought in the courtroom, on the floor of the US Senate and, in whispers, behind the closed doors of backrooms-that drives the rest of the story. The antagonists: the gun lobbyists plus certain senators in thrall to them, and Kilcannon, plus certain senators as sickened as he is by the ever-mounting death toll, children and other innocents so often the victims. The SSA (Sons of the Second Amendment: read NRA, because the author means you to) labels these as "gun-grabbers," viewing them with alarm and detestation. The bitter division is basically along party lines, the majority Republicans pitted against the minority Democrats over two pending pieces of legislation whose fate will lastingly affect the role of guns in America. In the meantime, back at the White House, the beleaguered President and his brave and estimable First Lady face a struggle to hold their marriage together-this one rather less than epic. Longer than it need be and occasionallyrepetitious, but redeemed, scene after scene, by bare-knuckle, page-turning, political infighting. For ordinary folk, it's good enough stuff. For political junkies, think Harry Potter. Author tour. Agent: Fred Hill
From the Publisher
“A rip-roaring novel about guns, lawyers, and politics . . . This is a great read by a masterful writer.”
—SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY
“ALWAYS KEEPS YOU ON THE EDGE OF YOUR SEAT. Patterson has the rare gift of enthralling as he informs.”
—The Guardian (London)
“REVEALING . . . WILL LEAVE YOU LOBBYING FOR MORE.”
“PATTERSON TURNS UP THE HEAT.”
—The Dallas Morning News
“A MUST READ.”
—FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON
“THOUGHT-PROVOKING . . . [Patterson’s] passion for politics, public discussion, and gun control are infectious and admirable.”
“[A] SPELLBINDING NOVEL . . . Patterson’s extensive research, plot skills, and ability to create engaging, authentic dialogue set his writing apart. . . . believable and eloquent.”
“Balance of Power is a compelling story, fully worthy of Richard North Patterson, which is made even more intriguing by its detailed insight into the world of special-interests politics in Washington, D.C.”
“A masterpiece . . . From the first page, President Kilcannon faces plot twists that challenge his resourcefulness and moral character.”
—The Tulsa World
“Compulsive reading . . . An engrossing blend of courtroom and political drama.”
—The London Times
“IMPORTANT READING, EVEN ESSENTIAL . . . Patterson masterfully touches all the right historical reference points to lure us into his story. . . . The image of the gun—and what to do about it as a society—linger long after the covers close.”
—Ft. Myers News Press
“Patterson has done his homework, and Balance of Power presents a clear picture of the arguments and political realities on both sides of the debate.”
—The Denver Post
“A powerful, in your face, condemnation of the American political system that abets gun violence . . . Patterson makes no apologies as he denounces a system in which money buys Congressional votes [and] ethics mean nothing.”
—The Midwest Book Review
“A harsh, persuasive indictment of the politics that breeds gun violence in America . . . bare-knuckle, page-turning, political infighting. For ordinary folk, it’s good stuff. For political junkies, think Harry Potter.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“One of [Patterson’s] best . . . Fascinating . . . A thoughtful exposition of an important issue . . . [Balance of Power] will entertain, challenge, inform—and, just maybe, open a few minds.”
—Times Dispatch (Richmond, VA)
“Balance of Power and Protect and Defend stand as a remarkable project in popular fiction: an extension of the genre of the legal thriller to explore the morality and strategies of U.S.’s greatest civic controversies.”
—The Guardian (London)
Read an Excerpt
Feeling the gun against the nape of her neck, Joan Bowden froze.
Her consciousness narrowed to the weapon she could not see: her vision barely registered the cramped living room, the images on her television--the President and his fiancee, opening the Fourth of July gala beneath the towering obelisk of the Washington Monument. She could feel John's rage through the cold metal on her skin, smell the liquor on his breath.
"Why?" she whispered.
"You wanted him."
He spoke in a dull, emphatic monotone. Who? she wanted to ask. But she was too afraid; with a panic akin to madness, she mentally scanned the faces from the company cookout they had attended hours before. Perhaps Gary--they had talked for a time.
Desperate, she answered, "I don't want anyone."
She felt his hand twitch. "You don't want me. You have contempt for me."
Abruptly, his tone had changed to a higher pitch, paranoid and accusatory, the prelude to the near hysteria which issued from some unfathomable recess of his brain. Two nights before, she had awakened, drenched with sweat, from the nightmare of her own death.
Who would care for Marie?
Moments before, their daughter had sat at the kitchen table, a portrait of dark-haired intensity as she whispered to the doll for whom she daily set a place. Afraid to move, Joan strained to see the kitchen from the corner of her eye. John's remaining discipline was to wait until Marie had vanished; lately their daughter seemed to have developed a preternatural sense of impending violence which warned her to take flight. A silent minuet of abuse, binding daughter to father.
Marie and her doll were gone.
"Please," Joan begged.
The cords of her neck throbbed with tension. The next moment could be fateful: she had learned that protest enraged him, passivity insulted him.
Slowly, the barrel traced a line to the base of her neck, then pulled away.
Joan's head bowed. Her body shivered with a spasm of escaping breath.
She heard him move from behind the chair, felt him staring down at her. Fearful not to look at him, she forced herself to meet his gaze.
With an open palm, he slapped her.
Her head snapped back, skull ringing. She felt blood trickling from her lower lip.
John placed the gun to her mouth.
Her husband. The joyful face from her wedding album, now dark-eyed and implacable, the 49ers T-shirt betraying the paunch on his too-thin frame.
Smiling grimly, John Bowden pulled the trigger.
Recoiling, Joan cried out at the hollow metallic click. The sounds seemed to work a chemical change in him--a psychic wound which widened his eyes. His mouth opened, as if to speak; then he turned, staggering, and reeled toward their bedroom.
Slumping forward, Joan covered her face.
Soon he would pass out. She would be safe then; in the morning, before he left, she would endure his silence, the aftershock of his brutality and shame.
At least Marie knew only the silence.
Queasy, Joan stumbled to the bathroom in the darkened hallway, a painful throbbing in her jaw. She stared in the mirror at her drawn face, not quite believing the woman she had become. Blood trickled from her swollen lip.
She dabbed with tissue until it stopped. For another moment Joan stared at herself. Then, quietly, she walked to her daughter's bedroom.
Marie's door was closed. With painstaking care, her mother turned the knob, opening a crack to peer through.
Cross-legged, Marie bent over the china doll which once had been her grandmother's. Joan felt a spurt of relief; the child had not seen them, did not see her now. Watching, Joan was seized by a desperate love.
With slow deliberation, Marie raised her hand and slapped the vacant china face.
Gently, the child cradled the doll in her arms. "I won't do that again," she promised. "As long as you're good."
Tears welling, Joan backed away. She went to the kitchen sink and vomited.
She stayed there for minutes, hands braced against the sink. At last she turned on the faucet. Watching her sickness swirl down the drain, Joan faced what she must do.
Glancing over her shoulder, she searched for the slip of paper with his telephone number, hidden in her leather-bound book of recipes. Call me, he had urged. No matter the hour.
She must not wake her husband.
Lifting the kitchen telephone from its cradle, Joan crept back to the living room, praying for courage. On the television, a graceful arc of fireworks rose above the obelisk.
President Kerry Francis Kilcannon and his fiancee, Lara Costello, watched as a red flare rose above the Mall, bursting into a galaxy of falling stars which framed the Washington Monument.
For this rarity, an evening alone, they had left the annual party for staffers and retreated to the porch on the second floor of the White House. Spread across their table was a white linen cloth, a picnic of cheese and fruit, and a bottle of light chardonnay which cooled in a silver cylinder, a gift from the President of France. Lara took Kerry's hand.
"When I was six," she told him, "our father took us to the fireworks at Crissy Field. I remember holding his hand, watching all those explosions above the Golden Gate Bridge. That's my last memory of being with him."
Turning from the fireworks, Kerry studied the sculpted face--intense dark eyes, high cheekbones, pale skin framed by jet-black hair--which, to her bemusement, had helped Lara rise from a semianonymous political reporter for the New York Times to celebrity as a television journalist. Like many women, Kerry supposed, her self-concept had been fixed in adolescence: then she not had thought of herself as beautiful--though she surely was--but as the perfect student, the dutiful oldest daughter who must help her mother and sisters. It was the dutiful daughter who had achieved success, driven to make Inez Costello proud, to free her younger sisters from the struggle caused by their father's desertion. Even at thirty-two, Kerry knew, her family still defined her.
"What I was hoping you'd remember," he said, "is the scene from To Catch a Thief. Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Monaco, watching fireworks from her hotel room."
Lara faced him with an amused, appraising look. "I remember that they lay down on the couch, and then the camera panned away. The fireworks were a metaphor."
"Uh-huh. Very 1950s."
Leaning forward, Lara kissed him, a lingering touch of the lips, then rested her cheek against his shoulder. "This is the twenty-first century," she told him. "No metaphors required."
Afterward, they lay in his canopied bed listening to the last, faint whistling of fireworks. One table lamp still glowed--making love, and after, both needed to see the other's face.
Smiling, she lightly mussed his hair. "You're not too bad," she told him. "At least as Presidents go."
As she intended, this elicited the boyish grin which lit his face and crinkled the corners of his eyes. There had been too little lightness in Kerry's life. Even his first success in politics, election to the Senate at age thirty, had been as surrogate for his brother, Senator James Kilcannon, assassinated in San Francisco while running for President. Lara had been nineteen then; she remembered watching the telecast of James's funeral, the haunted look on Kerry's face as he attended to his widowed mother. So that when, as a reporter for the New York Times, she had met him seven years later, the first thing she noticed was not his fine-featured face, incongruously youthful for a potential President, nor his thatch of chestnut hair, nor even the scar at the corner of one eye. It was the startling contradiction presented by the eyes themselves: their green-flecked blue irises, larger than most, gave Lara the sense--rare in a white male politician--of someone who had seen more sadness than most. Then, she had thought this an illusion, abetted by her memory of the funeral; only later, when Kerry shared the private history he had entrusted to almost no one, did she understand how true it was.
"If so," he answered, "you're free to take it personally. Tongue-tied Catholic boys from Newark don't usually get much practice. Lord knows that Meg and I weren't much good to each other, in any way."
If only, Lara thought, Meg could be dismissed so simply. But her existence affected them still--publicly, because Kerry's lack of an annulment had forestalled them from marrying in the Church; privately, because their love affair had begun while Kerry was married. Its secrecy had saved Kerry's chances of becoming President: only after his divorce and the California primary, when Kerry himself had been wounded by a would-be assassin, had they come together in public.
Now she touched the scar the bullet had left, a red welt near his heart. "We've been good to each other," she said. "And very lucky."
To Lara, he seemed to sense the sadness beneath her words, the lingering regrets which shadowed their new life. "Just lucky?" he answered softly. "In public life, we're a miracle. Rather like my career."
This aspect of his worldview--that good fortune was an accident--was, in Lara's mind, fortified by his certainty that gunfire had made him President: first by killing James, the deserving brother; then by wounding Kerry, causing the wave of sympathy which, last November, had helped elect him by the narrowest of margins, with California tipping the balance. But this had also given him a mission, repeated in speech after speech: "to eradicate gun violence as surely as we ended polio."
"Speaking of miracles," she asked, "is your meeting with the gun companies still a go?"
"A handful of companies," Kerry amended. "The few brave souls willing to help keep four-year-olds from killing themselves with that new handgun Dad bought for their protection. If you listen to the SSA, tomorrow will be the death knell of gun rights in America." Suddenly, he smiled. "Though in preparing for the meeting, I discovered that it's you who's hell-bent on disarming us."
"You, and your entire profession." Turning, Kerry removed a magazine from the briefing book on his nightstand; as he flipped its pages, Lara saw that it was the monthly publication of the Sons of the Second Amendment, perhaps Washington's most powerful lobby, and that its cover featured a venomous cartoon of Kerry as Adolf Hitler.
" 'Surveys,' " Kerry read, " 'have shown that most reporters for the major media live in upper-class homes, head and shoulders above most of us in fly-over country. Many took their education at Ivy League universities where they protested the Vietnam conflict, smoked dope, loved freely, and ingested every ultraliberal cause their professors threw at them.' " Pausing, he said wryly, "Truth to tell, they're onto something. What was wrong with you?"
Lara propped her head up with one hand. "My mother cleaned houses. So I was afraid to lose my scholarship. Besides, I missed the war by twenty years."
"It hardly matters--you caught up soon enough. Listen to this: 'Once they graduated, they faced the prospect of going to work. What better way to earn a fat paycheck and change the world than become a reporter for ABC, or CBS or NBC or CNN or write for the New York Times?'
"That's you," Kerry added, fixing her with a mock-accusatory gaze, and then continued. " 'Having become gainfully employed, these men and women from Yale and Harvard and Brown and Princeton brought their own biases with them. Many do not know anyone who owns guns. Their only exposure to firearms comes when they report on the carnage left by a deranged shooter going "postal" . . .' "
"How about knowing someone who actually got shot?" Lara interjected. "Does that count?"
"Oh, that? That just means you've lost your objectivity. Like me."
The rueful remark held an undertone of bitterness. This involved far more, Lara knew, than what his opponents claimed--anger at his brother's death, or his own near death. Kerry was sick of bloodshed, weary of meeting, year after year, with families who had lost loved ones, of trying to comfort them with the same empty phrases. For him, his failure was both political and deeply personal. And Kerry did not live with failure--especially regarding guns--well.
"Sooner or later," Lara assured him, "you'll get Congress to pass a decent gun law."
Kerry raised his eyebrows, exchanging bitterness for an irony tinged with good-natured frustration. "Before or after we get married?"
Lara smiled, unfazed. "That I can't tell you. But certainly before I find a job."
This was another blind curve on the road to marriage. Though she was developing a degree of fatalism, the resignation of a would-be First Lady to the limitations of her new life, Lara had always been independent, beholden to no one for support or a sense of who she was. That Kerry understood this did not change what she would lose by marrying him--her own identity. Already she had been forced to take leave from NBC: the potential for conflicts of interest, or at least their appearance--that a powerful network might profit by employing the President's fiancee--also applied to any other segment of the media. A brief flirtation with the presidency of the Red Cross--based on her high profile as a television journalist and experience in war zones--had floundered on the fear that major donors might want something from President Kilcannon. Other jobs had similar problems, and the best ones, Lara acknowledged, would take away from her public duties and her private time with Kerry. "I'm sorry," she said at last. "I was being a brat. It may not seem so, but you're actually more important to me than running the Red Cross."
Though he knew this, or at least should, to Lara his expression betrayed a certain relief. "Then your fate is sealed, I'm afraid."
"I guess it is," she answered dryly. "I'm a fool for love."
Once more he drew her close. "The thing is," he continued, "I'm forty-three. Even if we started tomorrow, by the time our first son or daughter graduates from college I'll be on Social Security. If there's any left."
"Tell that to the Pope."
"Oh, I have. I even mentioned that Meg couldn't stand the thought of children." There was a different tone in his voice, Lara thought; hand gently touching her chin, he raised her face to his. "And, at last, he's heard me."
She felt a tingle of surprise. "The annulment?"
Kerry grinned. "Yes. That."
Astonished, Lara pulled back to look at him. "When?"
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I was in Pittsburgh." There was new light in his eyes, and he spoke more softly. "This just seemed like a better time and place."
Knowing how much he wanted this, Lara felt the depth of her love for him. This moment was the last threshold, she knew, before she entered the hall of mirrors which was the Presidency, the omnipresent, often merciless scrutiny which could change lives and warp marriages until even the most private act assumed a public significance. Briefly, she thought of her abortion, felt the familiar stab of fear. Then she thought of Kerry, and imagined their children.