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 occasionally repetitious, 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.