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. Agent, Fred Hill. (Dec.) Forecast: With the future of the Supreme Court at stake in this last election, the reach of this perfectly timed novel could extend beyond Patterson's usual fans. A 500,000-copy first printing has been announced; the book is also a dual main selection of the Literary Guild, a featured alternate selection of BOMC and a selection of the Doubleday Book Club and the Mystery Guild, and will be a simultaneous Random House Audiobook and available in a large print edition from Random. We're talking major bestseller here.