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  • Written by Elisabeth Hyde
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  • Written by Elisabeth Hyde
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Written by Elisabeth HydeAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Elisabeth Hyde

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On Sale: June 20, 2006
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-307-26548-7
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Two weeks before Christmas, Diana Duprey, an outspoken abortion doctor, is found dead in her swimming pool. A national figure, Diana inspired passion and ignited tempers, but never more so than the day of her death. Her husband Frank, a longtime attorney in the DA’s office; her daughter Megan, a freshman in college; the Reverend Stephen O’Connell, founder of the town’s pro-life coalition: all of them quarreled with Diana that day and each one has something to lose in revealing the truth. Meanwhile the detective on the case struggles for the answers — and finds himself more intimately involved than he ever could have imagined.

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

The problem was, Megan had just taken the second half of the ecstasy when her father called with the news.

Earlier that day, her roommate had bundled up and trudged out into a raging Front Range blizzard to buy two green clover-shaped pills: one for herself, and one for Megan, as a kind of pre-Christmas present. Natalie had meant to wrap them up in a little box. But the day got a little hectic, what with exams and all, so after dinner, when they were back in their dorm room together, Natalie simply dug in her pocket and took out the little pills and without any fanfare set them on the open page of Megan’s biology text. “And don’t wuss,” she warned.

Megan screwed up her face. The green pills reminded her of those pastel dots you got when you were a kid, the kind you peel off a long strip of paper. She didn’t have time for this tonight. She scooped up the pills and put them into a clay pinch pot that sat in the back corner of her desk. Lumpy and chipped, the pot looked as though someone had stuck his elbow into a ball of clay. Which is exactly what Ben, her brother, had done, eleven years ago. A major accomplishment, for Ben.

But Natalie wouldn’t let the matter go, pointing out that they could start with just half. And so instead of studying for her biology exam as planned, Megan Thompson, pre-med freshman at the university, found herself giving in to something larger and decidedly more fun that evening. Not only that, but she gave in with no clue as to what had transpired earlier that evening two miles west, in the two-story stucco house she’d grown up in—the house that had been on the Home Tour three years in a row, the one that backed up to Open Space, with the model solar heating panels and the evaporative cooling system that kept the temperature inside a mere seventy- five when outside it soared above a hundred. She had no suspicions, no worries, no funny feelings that might have caused her to think twice, to resist the temptation and opt out of what she knew from experience would be another evening of all-night bliss. Forgetting about everything else—her exam, the argument with her mother earlier that morning, that last very strange e-mail from Bill—Megan placed half the pill on her tongue, washed it down with water, and waited.

That was at eight o’clock.

At eight-thirty they weren’t feeling much different.

At quarter to nine Natalie wondered if they should take the other half.

And it was right after they split the second pill that the phone rang. Natalie recognized the number on Caller ID. “It’s your mother again,” she announced.

When Megan didn’t reply, Natalie said, “I think you ought to straighten things out. Maybe she changed her mind. Maybe she’ll buy you the plane ticket. I’m answering it.” She picked up the phone, singing “Yell-low?” before even bringing the phone to her ear.

Seated cross-legged on her bed, Megan slumped against the wall. The reason she didn’t want to talk to her mother was simple. That morning they’d argued over whether or not Diana would buy Megan a ticket to Mexico for spring break. Mean things were said—by both of them—and Megan shuddered when she recalled how pleased she’d felt with that last wicked remark about killing babies. Why did it make her feel so good to make her mother feel so bad?

Speaking of feelings, the drug was kicking in and she was beginning to feel pretty good—so that when Natalie told her it wasn’t her mother but rather her father on the phone, she felt a welcome surge of love and affection.

“That’s my dad,” she said fondly, “wanting to play the guy in the middle. He’s always doing that, you know? Whenever Mom and I get into a fight, there he is, Mr. Mediator. It wasn’t even a big fight,” she went on. “He just wants everything perfect, since it isn’t with him and Mom. Freaks him out to think that she and I—”

“Take the fucking phone,” said Natalie.

Megan took the phone and cradled it to her ear. “Hi, Dad.”

“Sweetheart,” he began.

“It wasn’t a major fight,” she told him. “Did she tell you? A bunch of people are going to Mexico. I’ll pay for the ticket, I’ll pay for everything. I didn’t mean to lay it all on Mom.” She heard her father clear his throat but felt a rush of apology coming—not just for things said earlier that day but for all the wrongs she had committed over the course of her nineteen years.

“I was rude,” she said. “I shouldn’t have yelled at her. Jesus, it’s Christmas. What was I thinking? I hate it when I yell.”

“Megan,” her father said.

Megan stopped. There was something black and buggy in his voice that made her heart skip. And it took her less than a second to realize why. It was the voice he’d used ten years ago, when he’d called her at summer camp with the news about Ben.

“Megan,” he began.

—————

Frank Thompson couldn’t tell if it was the reflection of pool water bouncing off the windows, or the shriek of his daughter over the phone, or the flapping sound of the sheet as the paramedics covered his wife that made his legs begin to wobble and shake. All he knew was that the ground beneath him was falling out from under, and he had to get down, fast, or he was going to be sick.

He squatted, set the phone on the slate floor that Diana had chosen when she put in the pool, and covered his face with his hands. He listened to the pool pump as it sucked and squirted from somewhere underground, and breathed in the moist, chlorinated air that filled the solarium. A few feet away a young woman in a police uniform was conferring with the paramedics. Next to him lay Diana’s peach-colored bathrobe, along with a pair of purple flip-flops with the darkened imprints of her heels.

A shiver passed through him, and he turned his gaze to the water in the pool, which continued to dance as though some ghost were out there sculling in the middle. It was a small elevated pool, framed in by blond birch panels—not much bigger than two hot tubs end to end, really, with a motorized current that allowed Diana to swim nonstop without having to turn. Although he hadn’t wanted to put the pool in, he’d later conceded to one of his colleagues that it was a worthy investment, since it gave his high-strung wife a chance to come home and mellow out. After twenty years of marriage, he knew that a mellow Diana was a cohabitable Diana.

Frank lifted his head, and a sparkle of light caught his eye from underneath the ficus tree across the room. Broken glass, needly shards—and Frank cringed as he recalled how earlier that afternoon he’d thrown the glass across the room to get his wife’s attention. It was wrong of him, he knew that. But after coming across the pictures online—pictures that no father should have to imagine, let alone see—well, everyone has a breaking point, and it was the way Diana was so oblivious to the problem at hand, the way she assumed he was upset because she’d skipped out on lunch earlier that day: he felt his shoulders clench, and the glass just flew.

Three clicks.

It would seem that a man in Frank Thompson’s position, with over twenty years’ experience as a prosecuting attorney, would know better than to start tampering with things in a room with a dead person. A man in his position would get out of that room and call his own attorney. But Frank didn’t have his wits about him at the moment, certainly not his professional wits, and all he could think was that broken glass would convey the wrong impression about his marriage. (Though lord it felt good to shatter a glass like that; the gratification was unmatched, like saying shit or fuck in front of small children.)

Rising stiffly, he walked over to a little poolside closet to get a broom and dustpan. Nobody seemed to notice him; the patrol officer was on her cell phone and the paramedics were conferring with each other. As if making up for all the times during their marriage that he hadn’t cleaned up after himself, he knelt down and swept up the ficus leaves and shards of glass and emptied them into a wastebasket. He didn’t want people to have the wrong impression.

Outside, a blast of grainy snow pelted the sliding-glass doors. Now the cop and the paramedics were kneeling beside Diana’s body.

“That’s not good,” the cop said, glancing up. She was new on the force, blond and blue-eyed like someone straight off a farm in Minnesota; but she already had that bossy, black and white air that you find in cops, and older siblings. “Did you know about this?”

“Know about what?” asked Frank.

“Come see,” said the cop. “If you get down, you can see better.”

Reluctantly, Frank squatted. He hadn’t looked at Diana since the paramedics had arrived. They held the sheet away from her head, and Frank, who’d harbored the lay belief that maybe it was all a mistake, now forced himself to look.

For all the times he’d seen a dead body—and there were plenty, his having been with the district attorney’s office for twenty-four years—nothing could compare to this. His wife’s dark corkscrew curls fanned away from her face, Medusa-like. Her skin was white and waxy, her lips the color of plums. Her eyes stared up, flat and fishy. He looked away.

“What concerns us is this,” the cop said, and she nodded to the younger of the two paramedics, a man with a long straggly ponytail. Gently taking Diana’s head in both hands, he turned it slightly and splayed the hair above her ear.

“Right there,” said the cop. “You see?”

What he saw made him choke. The bruise was huge and ripe and living, a fat, blue-gray slug in her tangled hair.

“Any idea how this happened?” the cop asked Frank.

Numbly Frank shook his head.

“Well, it’s some bruise,” the cop said. “Hard to imagine what could have made a bruise like that. And look at those knuckles.”

Frank heard himself suggest that she’d perhaps fallen.

“Maybe it’s that simple,” said the cop, “but I’m calling the coroner.”

Frank stared at the cop, and for the first time he recalled that on two separate occasions he’d had her on the witness stand; both times she’d not flinched when the defense attorney had implied she was a forgetful, inattentive liar.

“—crime scene from now on,” she added. “Frank, you need to have a seat.”

“You mean you think this wasn’t an accident?”

“Frank,” she said, “your wife is a national figure. There are a lot of people out there who don’t like what she does.”

“Could she have been swimming too fast?” the older paramedic asked. “Maybe she swam into the edge of the pool.”

“This is two-four-oh-five,” the cop was saying into her radio. “Where’s Mark? I need backup now.

Frank just stared at the three of them.

“Or maybe she tripped and hit her head and fell into the pool,” suggested the paramedic.

Frank couldn’t answer. It wasn’t sinking in. He looked at his wife’s face. The night before, she’d been complaining about the frown lines between her eyebrows; now her forehead was perfectly smooth and unlined. The night before, she’d informed him that for the past five years she’d been coloring her hair without his knowing; now for the first time he noticed that, yes indeed, it was a shade darker.

He wanted to tell her how beautiful she was, how young she looked, but the words kept catching on little fishhooks in his throat. What had he said earlier that afternoon? Something about photo ops and Ben? The great Dr. Duprey, he’d said. Now he cringed, recalling his words, and he bent down and rested his cheek against hers, wanting to take back everything he’d said that afternoon.

He might as well have tried to take back his wedding vows.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered into her ear. “I’m so, so sorry.”


From the Hardcover edition.
Elisabeth Hyde|Author Q&A

About Elisabeth Hyde

Elisabeth Hyde - The Abortionist's Daughter

Photo © Jerry Bauer

Elisabeth Hyde is the author of four previous novels. Born and raised in New Hampshire, she has since lived in Vermont, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Seattle. In 1979 she received her law degree and practiced briefly with the U.S. Department of Justice. She currently lives in Colorado with her family.

Author Q&A

So why write a suspense novel about such a controversial topic?

I never wrote this novel with an agenda; my goal was simply to offer a literary take on an emotional topic. I wanted to explore the nuances of a politically charged issue in a novel where complicated people face complicated issues, but above all else, simply tell a good story.

When did you decide your novel would revolve around an abortion doctor?

Abortion is possibly the most polarizing issue in this country today. Yet our discussions so often neglect the personal side of things, which is where a novel fits in. I’ve always been pro-choice. My mother, by the way, who has four daughters and is now 81, once wrote Justice Blackmun to thank him for writing Roe v. Wade. She got a personal reply from him, too.

In any event, I’d been playing with the topic of abortion in my head for a long time. The problem was, the character I had in mind was always a pregnant girl, and a story that’s primarily about whether a pregnant girl does or does not have an abortion isn’t much of a story at all. Either she has one, or she doesn’t. There’s not a whole lot to sustain the narrative there.

I realized that a much more interesting story lay in the characters of those around her, people who may (consciously or not) try to influence her decision. And so I wrote The Abortionist's Daughter from a different angle. Parents, boyfriends, counselors, demonstrators—they all may have their own agenda, yet they’re dealing with an independent mind here, and it’s not their decision to make. Ultimately they’re quite helpless. And sometimes they may think they’re pushing a girl to do one thing, and it leads the girl to do a completely different thing. In The Abortionist's Daughter, the result is tragic.

The word “abortionist” has some fairly negative connotations. Those in the field prefer to be called “abortion providers.” Why did you choose such a provocative title?

Because it reflects the community’s view of Diana—who by nature is a very provocative woman. It’s the term that first comes to mind when people think of her; Huck, for example, uses it when speaking to her daughter Megan—and Megan quickly corrects him. There’s no question the title is controversial. But if a book deals with a controversial topic, controversial words are appropriate. Really, can you see the book titled “The Abortion Provider’s Daughter”? It simply doesn’t work.

There’s quite a bit of information about the life of an abortion doctor in here. What kind of research did you do?

Books, for the most part. A great source for me was Articles of Faith by Cynthia Gorney, which chronicles both the pro-choice and the anti-abortionist movements in the United States. Also, a wonderful autobiography called Why I Am an Abortion Doctor, by Suzanne Poppema. Beyond that, I used my imagination.

How about the police angle?

Although I was trained as a lawyer, I’m not at all an expert in this area; it would take years of practice to really know the ins and outs. But I did enroll in the Boulder Citizen’s Police Academy, a ten week course open to anyone, where you get introduced to all aspects of the police department: dispatch, investigations, search and seizure law. The best part was getting to ride around in a cop car on a Friday night. Much of our time was spent investigating college drinking parties. My son was in high school at the time, and I remember worrying that he’d decide to break all the rules that night, and that I’d run into him at one of the parties. Fortunately that didn’t happen.

Now that you’ve finished The Abortionist's Daughter, what have you come to understand about the anti-abortion movement?

Eyal Press, the author of Absolute Convictions, talked to a lot of protesters in researching his book about growing up as the son of an abortion provider, and he found many of them quite reasonable; they just cannot accept a society that condones abortion. But the fanatics—like those with Operation Save America, who come to Boulder every summer to stage protests and distribute hate flyers?—are a different breed, and to them I’d like to say that I think their passion is misguided.

Think of it this way. What if they could rechannel their passion to focus on the hundreds of thousands of children who are homeless in our country on any given night? Or the 872,000 children who were found to have been abused in 2004 alone? Seven-year-old Nixmary Brown weighed 36 pounds when she was allegedly killed by her parents. Her life was a living hell; according to reports, she was tied to a chair and forced to use a litter box for a toilet.

Meanwhile, we have a Congress that wants to cut Medicaid, wants to cut $600 million for foster care children, and a president who cares more about one brain-dead woman than a million children who are living without adequate food, housing, or medical care. Our society should focus on the children we’ve already brought into this world, and take care of them, and treat them like the fully developed human beings they already are.

I know their response would be that you have to pick your battles. I’m just saying, pick a different battle. Pick one that’s staring you in the face as you wait in a grocery line.

I understand you were a lawyer before you turned to writingwhat prompted the change?

I never wanted to be a lawyer; I went to law school because I felt I needed a respectable career. I'd taken a lot of writing courses in college though, and went to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and knew I would be unhappy unless I started writing seriously.  So I took what I thought would be a sabbatical, and never went back.  The only time I miss law is when I read about other people's pension plans.

Let’s turn to the novel itself. Who’s your favorite character?

That’s like asking who’s your favorite child! I’m half in love with Huck, I have to admit. Just his name had me from the start. And Diana, of course. I always admired her outspokenness—a quality I wish I had myself.

Who are your favorite authors? What about role models for your first suspense novel?

I have a library shelf with all of my favorites. Katherine Anne Porter. Anne Tyler. Richard Russo. Joan Didion. Isabelle Allende. John Updike. I am in awe of Scott Turow—especially after reading Ordinary Heros, where he breaks out of his mold.  But Presumed Innocent is one of my favorite suspense books, simply because his characters are so well developed.  

And of course, my mentor, John Irving, who taught me the value of telling a good story. I studied with him at Bread Loaf. It was right after I graduated from law school, and I had some very rough short stories, but he liked my writing. He’d just published The World According to Garp, and he was incredibly supportive and let me send him revisions long after the conferences ended. Later he passed my work on to his agent, who sold my first two books.

What are you currently working on?

A novel about a river trip in the Grand Canyon. I’ve made the trip twice—once as a passenger, and once as a guide’s assistant, schlepping gear. The Canyon is the most magical place I’ve ever been. If I were in my twenties, I’d become a guide. As it is, I’m left with the next best thing, which is to write my heart out about it.


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise

“A smart and powerful thriller."
—Chris Bohjalian, author of Midwives

“Arresting. . . . Astute. . . . Hyde is an author who should be with us for some time.”
—Anita Shreve, The Washington Post Book World

“Darkly witty. . . . [The Abortionist’s Daughter] accordions out into a suspense story and a comic noir, a novel of manners and an improbable romance. . . . Striking.”
—Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air (NPR)

“In keeping with the truly best writers, Hyde examines both sides of the issue, but offers only questions that probe deep into the secret hearts of readers everywhere. For answers, they will have to turn to themselves. . . . Compelling and timely. . . . A must-read.”
The Denver Post
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

“Do you remember the excitement you felt when you read Presumed Innocent and discovered Scott Turow? I felt exactly that way as I read The Abortionist’s Daughter. Elisabeth Hyde is a dynamic storyteller and an elegant stylist–and I savored every moment of this smart and powerful thriller.”
—Chris Bohjalian, author of Midwives and Before You Know Kindness

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s reading of Elisabeth Hyde’s The Abortionist’s Daughter. We hope they will provide you with new angles from which to approach and discuss this powerful novel.

About the Guide

Two weeks before Christmas, Diana Duprey, an outspoken abortion doctor, is found floating in her pool, a bruise the size of a golf ball visible through her dark curls. A national figure, Diana inspired passion and ignited tempers, never more so than on the day of her death.

A richly layered, compulsively readable novel about a murder in a small Colorado town, The Abortionist’s Daughter makes us think about the choices we make and the way their unintended consequences ripple through our lives.

About the Author

Elisabeth Hyde was born and raised in New Hampshire, and briefly practiced law for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. In 1982, she took some time off to write her first novel, Her Native Colors, and never looked back. She has been awarded working scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, teaches creative writing through artist-in-residence programs, and is also the author of Monoosook Valley and Crazy as Chocolate. She lives in Colorado with her family.

Discussion Guides

1. While the book centers on the murder of Diana Duprey, Elisabeth Hyde has chosen to name it The Abortionist’s Daughter? Why do you think she chose this title? Did the title affect your reading of the book?

2. Discuss the marriage of Diana and Frank. How did their personalities impact their interactions? Do you think that they had a strong marriage? Why or why not?

3. At the time of Diana’s death, her relationship with Megan is strained at best. Do you think that their inability to communicate is a standard mother-daughter issue or do you think that it is caused by something more?

4. Although Ben has died many years before the events of the novel, his death continues to affect Frank, Diana, and Megan. Discuss how. How does Hyde make Ben’s continued presence felt in the Thompson household?

5. The last thing that Megan says to Diana is “have fun killing babies [pp. 19, 249]”. Why do you think that Megan chose to attack her mother in this way? Does Megan disagree with her mother’s decision to perform abortions?

6. Although Frank Thomson has been a prosecuting attorney for more than twenty years and should know better, he cleans his house while it is a crime scene. What are his possible reasons for doing this? What did you think about his decision to clean up?

7. When Megan is driving to her house after learning of her mother’s death, Hyde writes, “The Big Thing that they’d always lived under the shadow of had happened. It was real. It didn’t seem real, but it was” [p. 29]. Diana continued performing abortions despite the knowledge that doing so put her life at risk. What do you think motivated her decision to do so?

8. What do you think that Megan saw in Bill when she decided to date him? What do you think of Bill? Does your opinion change during the course of the novel?

9. Early into their relationship, Bill and Megan begin to have unprotected sex. Why do you think that Megan is so willing when she, of all people, should know better? Do you think that she is rebelling against her mother?

10. Diana continues to see Bill after he and Megan are no longer dating. What are her motivations for doing so? Why is it so important for Bill to keep in contact with Diana?

11. It seems like all of the characters in the novel have something to hide. How does this affect the investigation? In your opinion, who is hiding the most shocking secret?

12. Why does Huck hold a grudge against Frank Thompson? Is he justified in doing so? Does Huck’s grudge alter his conduct during the investigation?

13. Both Huck and Megan have much to lose by being in a relationship. Explain. Why do you think that they become involved? What do you think that they see in each other?

14. Discuss Huck’s relationship with Carolyn. How did they end up together? Were you surprised when their relationship ended? Why or why not?

15. When we first encounter Megan, she’s on drugs and has just had a juvenile fight with her mother. How much does she grow during the course of the novel? Is this the direct result of her mother’s death, or are there other reasons as well? What are they?

16. Many of the characters in the novel end up making gross miscalculations. Discuss what some of these miscalculations are. In your opinion, which one ranks the worst? Why?

17. Were you able to figure out who killed Diana? What were the clues that lead you to this discovery? How did the motives of each of the suspects compare throughout the book?

18. Rose experiences pressure about her pregnancy from nearly everyone she knows. Why is her decision so significant to the other characters in the novel? What does she ultimately decide, and why?

19. While the issue of abortion certainly plays an important role in The Abortionist’s Daughter, Hyde addresses other hot button issues. What are they? Do you feel any differently about any of them after reading this book? How so?

Suggested Readings

Chris Bohjalian, Midwives; Anita Shreve, Light in Snow; Jody Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper; Dani Shapiro, Family History; Ann Packer, The Dive from Clausen’s Pier; Sue Miller, Lost in the Forest; Ayelet Waldman, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

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