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by Eric Van Lustbader
Forge, August 2008
400 pages
ISBN: 076532170X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

FIRST DAUGHTER begins where most thrillers end, with the daughter of the president in the midst of committing a terrorist act at the presidential inauguration. What follows from there is the background story that leads to the scene - the abduction and search for the daughter of incoming Republican President Edward Carson. His presidency is the replacement for an outgoing conservative whose agenda is tainted with a desire to rid the country of godless enemies, the First American Secular Revivalists. He believes that a radical offshoot of this group is behind the kidnapping of Carson's daughter, and directs the investigation to proceed accordingly.

Enter ATF agent Jack McClure, a lone wolf personally selected by the incoming president. McClure is at odds with the investigation's direction but McClure's daughter was the college roommate of the first daughter, so McClure has a bit of an inside track to understanding the circumstances faced by Alli Carson. He also has a good understanding of the seamier side of Washington, DC, where he grew up in the school of hard knocks. McClure is dyslexic, and author Eric Van Lustbader does a good job of incorporating this element into the storyline.

Where the story is less successful is in the overall tone of the book. Is the book a political rant against religion in the White House? Is it a vehicle to insert every type of violence imaginable, even if it's not necessarily relevant to the story? Is it about making amends for missed opportunities with family members? Or is it a thriller about the dangers of confusing terrorism with the rogue actions of a lone deviant? The messages are mixed, and a lot of the book's elements, which seem to go off in a wide variety of directions, can leave readers shaking their heads and wondering just what point the author is trying to make.

The book is strongest when detailing the background of Jack McClure and his search for the first daughter, Alli. Yet even here, there are gaps in the story, events from the past that link up imperfectly to the present or remain unexplained (fodder for the next book?). There's a villain whose motives are never satisfactorily explained. There's a twist to the end that seems inserted without a lot of forethought, but instead used as a quick way to wrap up the story. While the action along the way may be exciting, ultimately, the ending feels like a letdown, and the issue of the rogue president leaving office remains unsettled. Perhaps this is all the result of starting a book with the ending: Once readers arrive at their intended destination, the story's climax can only be a deflated version of the first scene.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, October 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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