First Daughter by Eric van Lustbader

In Eric Van Lustbader’s new novel, the President is an ultra-conservative, ultra-religious extremist, and he and his supporters are willing to do anything to keep a lock on the country, even if it means torturing their own citizens and forcing foreign governments to be complicit in their dirty deals. It’s a future that seems all too plausible in our current political climate, making First Daughter a timely political thriller.

Edward Carson, the President-Elect, is despised by the current president – he’s a moderate Republican, fiscally conservative, socially liberal, and determined to correct the mistakes of the current administration. When his only daughter, Alli, is kidnapped just before the inauguration, he calls on his old friend, ATF agent Jack McClure, to bring her home safely.

McClure is an interesting character: he ran away from an abusive home and grew up on the streets. His dyslexia made it impossible for him to attend school, but it gives him a unique insight into situations, letting him see patterns and make connections that others fail to grasp. He is struggling with the loss of his daughter, Emma (a close friend of Alli’s) and the subsequent crumbling of his marriage. And right now, he can’t be sure who his friends are; people who are supposed to be watching his back may actually be trying to kill him.

The first chapter is startling and sets the tone for the rest of the book: we know from the very beginning what’s going to happen at the inauguration. As each piece falls into place, we see how the characters wound up in their appointed places on the dais, and we grow more concerned about how the scenario will play out. The build-up to the inauguration is fast and exciting, with the twists and turns of the investigation and flashbacks into McClure’s past, which become ever more important as the case continues. I had a pretty good idea where this was all leading, but I wasn’t sure until the last second that I had guessed correctly. A first-rate political mystery.

There are a few things that bothered me. First, there is a ghostly subplot involving McClure’s dead daughter that didn’t engage me and didn’t seem vital. There’s really no explanation offered of how McClure went from a runaway living with a pawn-shop thug to a government agent (and I found that some of the stories of McClure’s youth stretched believability pretty thin). Most of all, I was bothered by McClure’s dyslexia – at times, he is so badly affected that he can’t even read street signs. I question how someone with such a pronounced problem could survive as a government agent, if he could hide it well enough to stay under the radar. I am looking forward to future books with McClure that might shed some light on the topic. Still, these issues did not keep me from enjoying the book. (I finished the book in two long stretches on my front porch and didn’t notice I was getting myself well and truly sunburned. That surely indicates a riveting story!)

First Daughter is scheduled for release on August 19th. My copy was an Advanced Reader edition; you can pre-order your copy here.

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