Richard North Patterson says that BALANCE OF POWER marks the end of his Kerry Kilcannon trilogy, which began with NO SAFE PLACE and continued with PROTECT AND DEFEND. Each volume in the trilogy has concerned a political/social issue of some import. NO SAFE PLACE and PROTECT AND DEFEND dealt with abortion, and BALANCE OF POWER concerns Kilcannon's efforts to implement what is presented as reasonable gun control measures.
Patterson is, from all indications, a decent and honorable man. He goes to great lengths in the Afterword to ensure readers that he is not a dispassionate observer or commentator; he even lists his numerous memberships in gun control advocacy groups. In a similar spirit, I will note that I am a life member of the National Rifle Association and a passionate advocate of the right to bear arms in the interest of self-defense.
I found myself in sharp disagreement with Patterson on many issues, including trigger locks (which I see as a leading cause of negligent misfires), so-called "smart guns" (which to me is a theoretical and technological impossibility) and Patterson's characterization of the National Rifle Association through the vehicle of the fictitious Sons of the Second Amendment as the tail that wags the dog of the firearms industry.
Most of all, however, from where I sit BALANCE OF POWER is misleading in its proposition concerning the alleged scarcity of gun control laws. There are currently over 67,000 laws regulating the sale, ownership and use of firearms in the United States. It is also noteworthy that on October 3, 2003, eleven days before BALANCE OF POWER was published, a Center for Disease Control review of these laws, including mandatory waiting periods and bans on certain weapons, found no proof that such measures reduce firearm violence.
However, Patterson is quick to point out that BALANCE OF POWER is a work of fiction. Accordingly, how does it stand when judged on that merit? Well, the good news is that the first 150 pages of BALANCE OF POWER are terrific, perhaps excellent. Kilcannon and his paramour, journalist Lara Costello, decide to marry. Patterson's description of the intricacies of trying to maintain privacy for the couple during a very public event is absolutely first-rate and would be interesting all by itself.
Patterson then adds an element of suspense to the mix. Joan Bowden, Costello's sister, is a victim of domestic violence. Kilcannon advises Bowden of her options and brings gentle and subtle pressure to bear on the appropriate authorities in order to streamline assistance to his future sister-in-law. Kilcannon's efforts are well intended but they aggravate his brother-in-law, who exacts a horrible revenge on Costello's sister and her family. Kilcannon, in turn, mounts an overt legislative and covert litigation attack on the gun industry in general and the Sons of the Second Amendment specifically.
It is in this middle section of BALANCE OF POWER that the tale begins to drag. Short on intrigue and long on proselytizing, the story begins to collapse under the weight of its own telling. Patterson, regrettably, shades his characters and their motives with too heavy a hand. Every conversation --- every word --- carries the ponderous tone of a speech. Attempts at suspense are sabotaged.
Still, if the reader can endure the middle sections of BALANCE OF POWER, the final 100 pages are as exciting and riveting as anything that Patterson has written in his noteworthy career. It is these pages that describe the intrigue, polling and outright arm-twisting leading up to a Senate vote on a tort reform bill that contains a provision providing the firearms industry immunity from lawsuits stemming from criminal misuse of firearms. Patterson is absolutely first-rate here; if one begins reading these final pages in the evening, bedtime will be delayed until BALANCE OF POWER is finished. The overall effect, however, is that Patterson initially creates a heightened aura of suspense, which he squanders before dragging the tale back from the precipice of failure at the last possible moment.
If Patterson's intent with BALANCE OF POWER was to publish an UNCLE TOM'S CABIN for the gun control movement, it is problematic as to whether or not he has succeeded. My impression is that this work will galvanize a few people while infuriating others, and ultimately will be ignored by the rest. I hope that Patterson's next work will mark a return to the strengths that he exhibited to such great effect in DEGREE OF GUILT and SILENT WITNESS.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 29, 2004