Angle of Impact
Bonnie MacDougal
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Buy *Angle of Impact* online Angle of Impact
Bonnie MacDougal
Ballantine Books
368 pages
April 1998
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

The London Evening Standard dubbed trial lawyer Bonnie MacDougal "the female John Grisham" after her debut novel Breach of Trust. Full of legal thriller prerequisites of sex, big money, corruption, conspiracy and courtroom maneuvering, MacDougal's second novel ranks with Grisham's fiction in the pop suspense ranks. Touching, thoughtful and deep aren't words anyone would use to describe this story of a successful, scrupled female corporate attorney. As a legal thriller, though, Angle of Impact works as a distracting piece of escapism for cabin-fevered readers.

Nordic beauty Dana Svenssen has just won a considerable liability victory for Pennsteel, one of her firm's biggest clients. After a month of meetings and arguments in Los Angeles, she's back in Philadelphia and on her way to take her daughters on a rare family vacation. She just needs to attend a victory celebration with Pennsteel's president before she spends some quality family time. She's on the phone playfully sparring with the Pennsteel head, she on her car phone and he from Pennsteel's helicopter, when their conversation is abruptly terminated. Flipping on her police scanner, she's horrified to hear that the Pennsteel chopper has collided with a small private plane directly above the amusement park where her two daughters are part of a group outing. She rushes to the park, arriving just in time to helplessly watch a horrifying rescue mission to bring park-goers off the roller coaster atop which teeters the wreckage of helicopter and plane.

Although twelve people are dead or will die in the crash or its aftermath, Dana finds her daughters safe, and immediately starts working to absolve Pennsteel of liability. Dana gets the ferris-wheel operator to give her a ride to the top where she snaps pictures of the wreckage with her daughter's camera seconds before an explosion completely obliterates the two aircraft. Dana is unhurt, but discovering the cause of the air collision becomes nearly impossible with most of the physical evidence destroyed.

Her vacation plans are shelved, and Dana goes right back to work for Pennsteel. Her strained relationship with her husband, Whit, makes the progression from bad to worse. Whit has been struggling to write the paper on Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose that will secure his tenure in the academic world. Dana is disappointed in Whit's inability to start or finish the paper, and Whit resents Dana's success as well as her constant absences from their family. Whit leaves Dana, finding temporary refuge with a female student. With her daughters vacationing with her sister, Dana finds herself alone in her home.

Gathering together a team of lawyers, researchers and experts, Dana begins trying to piece together the accident. After three separate attempts to steal the film she shot of the aircraft on the roller coaster, Dana suspects that someone doesn't want her -- or anyone -- to discover the truth about what happened. She stumbles into a web of intrigue and danger that complicates matters immensely. She stumbles, too, into the comforting arms of a hotshot young Alaskan bush pilot. Together they start to untangle the story behind the tragedy, putting their own lives in danger. When Whit is kidnapped, the stakes of the game go way up. Dana is forced to choose between her burning need for justice and the life of the man she once loved.

Angle of Impact moves quickly, keeping the pages turning with plot twists and complications. The narrative is interrupted occasionally by diatribes against the abuse of billable hours and by repeated references to Stegner's Angle of Repose, but on the whole the pacing is brisk. The suspense comes from not knowing the identity of the villains. The story's climax works, although the resolution of Dana's relationship with younger pilot Andy Broder is a little unbelievable. With readers gobbling up legal thrillers as fast as lawyer/authors can pump them out, Bonnie MacDougal is most likely assured a continuing, cushy second career.

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