Patterson's Prescience "Timely" is an understatement when it comes to Richard North Patterson's latest novel, "Protect and Defend" (Knopf, $29.95). Its two main themes are, as the cliché goes, ripped from today's headlines: (1) the United States Supreme Court and (2) abortion. Patterson, of course, had no idea how opportune his themes would be when he set out to write "Protect and Defend." Nonetheless, the novel provides insight into the difficulty the next president will face in changing the face of the highest court in the land to suit his party's agenda. And the abortion issue, as anybody who's followed politics for the past 30 years knows, seems as though it will be with us always. "Mesmerizing" is another word that accurately describes "Protect and Defend." Newly elected president Kerry Kilcannon is taking the oath of office when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court drops dead at his feet. Kilcannon's first major act as president will be to nominate a new chief justice. His pick is a woman, Caroline Masters, a distinguished federal jurist with no record so far on the divisive abortion issue. But Masters also has a secret in her past, one which, if discovered, might guarantee that the Senate would deny its consent to her nomination. Simultaneously, a 15-year-old girl, pregnant with a hydrocephalic fetus, decides she must defy her anti-abortion parents and seek a late-term abortion to protect her ability to bear children in the future. Her only hope is to overturn a federal law. She turns to Masters' former clerk to be her attorney. Patterson combines his effortless ability to craft a page-turner story with a fresh and exciting look at an old question as seen not through the eyes of advocates, but from the perspective of a sitting judge. Confirming his place in the top rank of living American novelists, Patterson has plotted a must-read story in which politics and the law clash at the highest levels, and the reader is the winner. Don DaleA new Jane Hamilton "Disobedience: A Novel" by Jane Hamilton ($24.95), the author of "A Map of the World" and "The Book of Ruth" brings us this new story of Henry, a normal teen-ager who accidentally stumbles onto his mother's e-mail account and discovers his mother is having an affair. His image of his idyllic family is forever altered and he spends the rest of the book following the affair on the computer and anticipating when his father and sister will find out. Great tale, elegantly and warmly spun. Kelly JusticeHeads-Up Those who mourn the Crestview neighborhood and who love children will be enchanted by "I Am" ($20). It is "A Celebration of Identity" and a project of Art180, in which volunteer artists Michele Seurat, Jay Paul, James Parrish and Diego Sanchez led children to investigate their identity through writing, mixed media, photography and filmmaking. The results have been compiled into a beautiful softback that includes the children's artwork and portraits by photographer Jay Paul. The book can be found in many area bookstores. Alert for train buffs: University of South Carolina Press has published "The Memory of Trains" ($24.95). This book by Louis Rubin, formerly of Algonquin Books, is filled with pictures of trains that are long-gone but not forgotten by train
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