Patterson Tackles Big Issues in New Political Thriller
Richard North Patterson's Protect and Defend is many things at once: a courtroom drama, a work of social criticism, an examination of the harsh realities of public life, and an evenhanded analysis of the controversial, interconnected issues of late-term abortion and parental consent. The result of all this is a compelling, hugely ambitious narrative that successfully illuminates the predatory nature of life in the corridors of power.
Protect and Defend begins, portentously, with an inauguration and a death. Kerry Kilcannon, last seen in No Safe Place, has just been elected President by the narrowest of margins. In the aftermath of his inaugural address, Roger Bannon, Chief Justice of a bitterly divided Supreme Court, suffers a fatal stroke, providing the administration with its first major challenge: finding a suitable replacement. Willfully courting controversy, Kilcannon nominates Caroline Masters -- a recurring Patterson heroine -- as the
first female Chief Justice in the history of the Court.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a potentially life-altering event gathers momentum. Mary Ann Tierney, the pregnant, 15-year-old daughter of devoutly pro-life parents, learns that her fetus, which is over five months old and legally viable, is hydrocephalic and is likely to be born without a cerebral cortex. When she also learns that the cesarean section required for the child's delivery carries a measurable risk of future infertility, she requests an abortion. Her parents, backed by a recent piece of legislation called the Protection of Life Act, predictably withhold their consent. All this sets the stage for the dramatic centerpiece of the book, as Mary Ann, aided by a gifted young lawyer named Sarah Dash, takes her case to the courts, challenging both her parents' most deep-seated beliefs and the constitutionality of the Protection of Life Act.
What follows is a rigorously constructed debate on late-term abortion that rapidly becomes a national cause celebre. As the case proceeds through the various levels of the judicial system, it begins to exert a gravitational pull that affects both the Caroline Masters confirmation hearings and the professional -- and sometimes personal -- lives of almost every major character. Many of these characters have complex personal histories, and -- in some cases -- carefully concealed secrets. Most of these secrets will be dragged into the light before the narrative ends.
Protect and Defend cogently addresses a number of troubling issues: abortion, the right to privacy, the politics of scandal, the Faustian compact between elected officials and special interest lobbies, the difficulty of making honorable choices in a world ruled by political expediency. It is, to my mind, Richard North Patterson's best, most provocative novel to date, a closely observed, brilliantly detailed portrait of the best and worst aspects of the democratic process.
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has just been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).
In Protect and Defend, Mr. Patterson's characters of all political stripes are convincingly and memorably drawn. Through their public actions and backstage maneuvers, Protect and Defend builds to a powerful catharsis.
Wall Street Journal
Protect and Defend is engrossing from the first page, and my discomfort turn to fascination as Patterson cranked up a wild ride on a roller coaster of morality, politics and emotions.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
U.S. President Kerry Kilcannon, introduced by Patterson in 1998's No Safe Place, returns for another political dogfight in this meticulously researched, sharply observed tension builder about a Supreme Court nominee mired in the abortion debate. Kilcannon, seeking to counter the court's conservative leanings, has nominated another Patterson heroine, Caroline Masters (Degree of Guilt; The Final Judgment), an appellate court judge of impeccable legal pedigree, yet one vulnerable to attack from the right. The single San Francisco judge harbors a secret: she had a child out of wedlock 27 years ago, a painful ordeal that her critics soon uncover. Masters's struggle for confirmation by the U.S. Senate plays out against the backdrop of another court caseDthat of Mary Ann Tierney, a 15-year-old six months pregnant with a hydrocephalic baby. Citing a new federal law, Tierney's parents, both prolife activists, refuse to allow their daughter to abort. When Tierney's suit seeking to overturn the law reaches the appellate court, Masters's foes work out a backroom deal that requires Masters to hear the case and issue an opinion that could doom her nomination and possibly Kilcannon's presidency. Excelling as both a political novel and a tale of suspense, Patterson's latest takes a provocative look at the ethics of abortion and the power plays endemic to American politics, skewering the Christian Right, the gun lobby and campaign financing along the way. In lesser hands, the book's exhaustive recitation of abortion pros and cons might have spelled polemical tedium, but Patterson's strong characterizations and sensitivity to both sides (though he leans prochoice) illuminate one of society's most bitter and divisive issues.
In his 11th novel, former courtroom lawyer Patterson builds upon No Safe Place, in which liberal senator Kerry Kilcannon ran for the presidency. Here the newly inaugurated Kilcannon immediately locks horns with conservative Congressional factions when he nominates appellate judge Caroline Masters as Supreme Court Chief Justice. Kilcannon's opponents attempt to derail the nomination by conspiring to have Judge Masters rule on a controversial and highly publicized late-term abortion case. The courtroom drama centers on 15-year-old Mary Ann Tierney's attempt to overturn the new parental consent law, which prevents her from legally aborting her hydrocephalic fetus. Mary Ann is represented by young, articulate Sarah Dash, who once clerked for Judge Masters, and opposed by her own father, a respected philosopher. Although the presentation suggests a pro-choice slant, Patterson's characters argue both sides of the issue intelligently, contributing to the intriguing complexity of a very thrilling political novel. Highly recommended for all public libraries.--Sheila Riley, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, DC Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-When the Chief Justice drops dead at the inauguration of Kerry Kilcannon, the charismatic new president appoints federal judge Caroline Masters to the high court and begins assembling a strategy to get her approved by a contentious Congress. Meanwhile, a pregnant teen with a damaged fetus goes to court to challenge her parents, who helped to pass a new parental-consent law that prevents her from having an abortion. The two events become intertwined, and as the plot thickens, almost every current domestic issue imaginable, from campaign finances to gun control to privacy rights, comes into play. Patterson skillfully juggles a large cast of characters and controversies, but the result is that his people emerge not as real individuals but as too-facile spokespersons for different points of view, and political or legal maneuvers are not always clearly explained. Nevertheless, fans of West Wing and aspiring lawyers will enjoy the action and the opportunity to contemplate the process of lawmaking and the difficulty of defining and maintaining integrity in the political arena.-Jan Tarasovic, West Springfield High School, Fairfax County, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
John W. Dean
. . . a thoroughly convincing account of a controversial Supreme Court confirmation proceeding. . . . This is a page turner that leaves you not merely satisfied but informed.
New York Times Book Review
The hotly contested abortion rights case that snarls his first Supreme Court nomination proves to Kerry Kilcannon that running for president (No Safe Place, 1998) is a walk in the park compared to actually serving in the office. Mary Ann Tierney, 15, comes to San Francisco attorney Sarah Dash for advice about the hydrocephalic baby she's carryinga baby her staunchly pro-life parents won't let her abort even though he's almost certain to be born without a cerebral cortex, via a Caesarian section that may prevent her from bearing further children. The controversy Sarah expects from arguing for Mary Ann's right to an abortion suddenly multiplies exponentially when her client's name gets leaked to the media. But there's much more at stake than the fate of Mary Ann and her family, for among the dozens of high-placed parties it touches is Caroline Masters (The Final Judgment, 1995, etc.), President Kilcannon's nominee to replace the Supreme Court Chief Justice who dropped dead on Inauguration Day. Despite her best attempts to remain neutral on the volatile case and the vexed questions of late-term abortion and parental consent it entails, Caroline is repeatedly trapped by her enemies into going on record in Mary Ann's favor. When the scene shifts from the California courtroom to the Senate chambers Caroline must negotiate to win confirmation, Patterson loses some of the urgency of Mary Ann's plight; but he compensates by a wonderfully inventive account of the infighting between the President and Caroline's foes, all of them armed to the teeth with hardball tactical tricks dressed up in the rhetoric of moral principle. Ablissfullylarge-scale political thriller that's also anunsparing examination of tough questions about abortion, by an author shrewd and generous enough to give spokespeople of every persuasion their day in court.
Read an Excerpt
"I, Kerry Francis Kilcannon . . ."
In a high clear voice, carrying a trace of Irish lilt, Kerry Kilcannon repeated the historic phrases intoned by Chief Justice Roger Bannon.
The two men faced each other on the patio which fronted the west side of the Capitol, surrounded by guests and officeholders and watched from greater distances by thousands of well-wishers who covered the grounds below. The noonday was bright but chill; a heavy snow had fallen overnight, and the mist of Bannon's words hung in the air between them. Though Kerry wore the traditional morning coat, those around him huddled with their collars up and hands shoved in the pockets of much heavier coats. Protected only by his traditional robe, the Chief Justice looked bloodless, an old man who shivered in the cold, heightening the contrast with Kerry Kilcannon.
Kerry was forty-two, and his slight frame and thatch of chestnut hair made him seem startlingly young for the office. At his moment of accession, both humbling and exalting, the three people he loved most stood near: his mother, Mary Kilcannon; Clayton Slade, his closest friend and the new Chief of Staff; and his fiancée, Lara Costello, a broadcast journalist who enhanced the aura of youth and vitality which was central to Kerry's appeal. "When Kerry Kilcannon enters a room," a commentator had observed, "he's in Technicolor, and everyone else is in black-and-white."
Despite that, Kerry knew with regret, he came to the presidency a divisive figure. His election last November had been bitter and close: only at dawn of the next morning, when the final count in California went narrowly to Kerry, had Americans known who would lead them. Few, Kerry supposed, were more appalled than Chief Justice Roger Bannon.
It was an open secret that, at seventy-nine, Bannon had long wished to retire: for eight years under Kerry's Democratic predecessor, the Chief Justice had presided grimly over a sharply divided Court, growing so pale and desiccated that he came, in Kerry's mind, to resemble parchment. Seemingly all that had sustained him was the wish for a Republican president to appoint his successor, helping maintain Bannon's conservative legacy; in a rare moment of incaution, conveyed to the press, Bannon had opined at a dinner party that Kerry was "ruthless, intemperate, and qualified only to ruin the Court." The inaugural's crowning irony was that the Chief Justice was here, obliged by office to effect the transfer of power to another Democrat, this one the embodiment of all Bannon loathed. Whoever imagined that ours was a government of laws and not men, Kerry thought wryly, could not see Bannon's face. Yet he was here to do his job, trembling with cold, and Kerry could not help but feel sympathy and a measure of admiration.
". . . do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States . . ."
The outgoing president watched from Kerry's left, gray and worn, a cautionary portrait of the burdens awaiting him. Yet there were at least two others nearby who already hoped to take Kerry's place: his old antagonist from the Senate, Republican Majority Leader Macdonald Gage; and Senator Chad Palmer, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a second Republican whose rivalry with Gage and friendship with Kerry did not disguise his cheerful conviction that he would be a far better president than either. Kerry wondered which man the Chief Justice was hoping would depose him four years hence, and whether Bannon would live that long.
". . . and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Firmly, as though to override the old man's hesitance, Kerry completed the oath.
At that wondrous instant, the summit of two years of striving and resolve, Kerry Francis Kilcannon became President of the United States.
A rough celebratory chorus rose from below. Mustering a faint smile, Bannon shook his hand.
"Congratulations," the Chief Justice murmured and then, after a moment's pause, he added the words "Mr. President."
At 12:31, both sobered and elated by the challenge awaiting him, President Kerry Kilcannon concluded his inaugural address.
There was a deep momentary quiet and then a rising swell of applause, long and sustained and, to Kerry, reassuring. Turning to those nearest, he looked first toward Lara Costello. Instead, he found himself staring at Chief Justice Bannon.
Bannon raised his hand, seeming to reach out to him, a red flush staining his cheeks. One side of his face twitched, and then his eyes rolled back into his head. Knees buckling, the Chief Justice slowly collapsed.
Before Kerry could react, three Secret Service agents surrounded the new President, uncertain of what they had seen. The crowd below stilled; from those closer at hand came cries of shock and confusion.
"He's had a stroke," Kerry said quickly. "I'm fine."
After a moment, they released his arms, clearing the small crush of onlookers surrounding the fallen Chief Justice. Senator Chad Palmer had already turned Bannon over and begun mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Kneeling beside them, Kerry watched Palmer's white-blond head press against the Chief Justice's ashen face. Chad's cheeks trembled with the effort to force air down a dead man's throat.
Turning at last, Palmer murmured to Kerry, "I think he's gone."
As ever in the presence of death, Kerry experienced a frisson of horror and pity. Chad touched his arm. "They'll need to see you, Mr. President. To know that you're all right."
Belatedly, Kerry nodded. He stood, turning, and saw his mother and Lara, their stunned expressions mirroring his own. Only then did he register what Chad Palmer, whose former appellation for Kerry was "pal," had called him.
At once, Kerry felt the weight of his new responsibilities, both substantive and symbolic. He had asked the country to look to him, and this was no time to falter.
Kerry stepped back to the podium, glancing back as paramedics bore the Chief Justice to an ambulance. The crowd below milled in confusion.
Gazing out, Kerry paused, restoring his own equanimity. Time seemed to stop for him. It was a trick he had learned before addressing a jury and, even now, it served.
Above the confusion, Kerry's voice rang out. "The Chief Justice," he announced, "has collapsed, and is on his way to the hospital."
His words carried through the wintry air to the far edge of the crowd. "I ask for a moment of quiet," he continued, "and for your prayers for Chief Justice Bannon."
Stillness fell, a respectful silence.
But there would be little time, Kerry realized, to reflect on Roger Bannon's passing. The first days of his administration had changed abruptly, and their defining moment was already ordained: his submission to the Senate of a new Chief Justice who, if confirmed, might transform the Court. The ways in which this would change his own life--and that of others here, and elsewhere--was not yet within his contemplation.
From the Hardcover edition.