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Protect and Defend

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Taut. Tightly stretched. Tense." That about covers it for Richard North Patterson's latest novel. The author of Dark Lady, No Safe Place, Eyes of a Child and The Lasko Tangent has produced perhaps his finest literary effort yet.

Kerry Kilcannon is the newly elected president of the United States. Shortly after he is sworn in by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, that Justice has a stroke and dies. Consequently, Kilcannon's first concern is to find a replacement for the open position on the highest court in this country.

His choice is Caroline Masters, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals justice who has had a brilliant judicial career but whose personal life is an unknown. She is not married and appears never to have been but she did hire a law clerk who, after leaving the position to begin work for a large law firm, takes on a case that, if successful, will set aside a right-to-life law limiting abortions.

The confirmation process begins, and so does the intrigue. You are pulled into at least three parallel stories that touch when common characters become involved. On one level is the political intrigue that accompanies the confirmation process and the issue of abortion. On another level is the legal case of Mary Ann Tierny, who wants to have an abortion against her parents' will and consent and contrary to federal law. Sara Dash, Caroline Masters's former law clerk, pushes the case as far up the judicial ladder as she can to allow her client to have an abortion without parental consent.

On another level, the novel treats the lives of each of the characters in a way that puts you inside their thoughts and feelings about as well as it can be done on paper. You will feel the turmoil of the parents of Mary Ann Tierny as they attempt to be true to the dictates of their God without destroying their relationship with their daughter.

The tension of the countervailing views of abortion on the individual level, special-interest-group level and government level is as tangible as the cover of the book in which this novel is packaged. The issue of life at all levels and the politics that disregards all concerns except self-perpetuation of the politician bump into each other with increasing force. The parallel stories come to a conclusion that does not attempt to answer the questions raised, but allows you to re-examine your own beliefs.

This is not a book to be taken lightly. It is one to be read and savored and, perhaps, loved or hated depending on whether you conclude the author favors your point of view. You may be able to tell and, if you know the author's background, you may get some clues. Even so, Patterson does an admirable job of playing all the varying views against each other.

You may be in favor of abortion or not, but either way, the novel will challenge you. Clothe the issues of abortion and politics with the atmosphere of a high-stakes confirmation in Washington, D.C., and you have a story worth reading. Add the depth of a family's struggle with its spiritual foundations and you have more than a story. You have an experience.

You also have a question: What is the U.S. Constitution about if not to protect and defend the liberty of all? That seems to be an easy question to answer but for one problem: Whose rights are protected and defended? Politicians', citizens', children's, parents', lawyers', judges', those of the unborn? You will be confronted and challenged to determine who and what you would protect and defend.

Journal Date: 
Sunday, April 1, 2001

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