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Book Review: First Daughter by Eric Van Lustbader

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Eric Van Lustbader’s First Daughter is a page-turner that hurtles through the storyline and gives readers a hero to root for as soon as he steps onto the scene. It even gets away with one of the plot gimmicks I usually most despise. The novel starts out at the inaugural ceremony for the newly elected President of the United States, introduces an element of duplicity and treachery on part of the First Daughter, then flips back in time a month to when events leading up to this showdown began.

I persevered in spite of myself and sank immediately into the story. Lustbader is a good storyteller — not always a structurally sound novelist — but always succeeds in grabbing people’s attention. He was a natural choice to continue the Jason Bourne books, the third of which was recently released.

I don’t know if the author intends Jack McClure to become a series character or not, but Jack has enough depth and problems that I want to see him again. Since I have ADHD with some mild OCD, and have children that have those as well, I was even more fascinated by Jack’s dyslexia and the fact that his brain processed information faster than a normal person was able to. Jack’s inability to read pertinent information at times was something I clearly understood. I get easily frustrated with instruction pamphlets and often have to hand them off to my wife.

Jack has also recently lost his daughter in a tragic car wreck, and — subsequently — endured the break-up of his marriage because he wasn’t able to get past his guilt of not being there for his daughter. He works for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, but President-Elect Edward Carson calls Jack in when his 19-year-old daughter Alli gets kidnapped. The personal tie exists between the two men because Emma, Jack’s daughter, was Alli’s roommate at college.

Immediately, Jack takes up the trail. The resonance between not being there for his own daughter and getting the chance to save another young girl comes home at once. Unfortunately, Jack also steps afoul of the Secret Service and other government agencies seeking the kidnapper.

This inter-agency rivalry screams plot manipulation on part of the author, but I liked the way it was handled. The rivalry became a stumbling block and something that had to be dealt with, but it wasn’t the largest part of the story.

One of the things that took me out of the book — at first — was Lustbader’s insistence on telling Jack’s backstory. I was confused and irritated when I turned to the first chapter that showed Jack as a kid getting abused by his father. I didn’t know what that had to do with the plot. And, in truth, it didn’t have that much to do with everything, in my opinion, despite the fact that Jack and the killer had a history together.

However, I soon found myself looking forward to those chapters involving Jack’s past. The character ended up getting a lot more depth that way, and I bought into him more heavily than I would have than if I’d read the kidnapping/murder plot only. Admittedly, some of what Jack experienced was over the top, because I really don’t think a man like Gus would take an interest in the boy that Jack was. But it’s good fiction.

While working on the kidnapping, Jack gets a chance to understand what happened to Emma as well. All of those things are eventually tied together, and it makes the machinations on the part of the villain even more evil. I enjoyed the fact that the record got set straight, and it made Jack’s loss more poignant, but it came so fast at the end that my attention was divided between that and what was going on at the time with Alli.

The religious references bugged me too. I still don’t quite understand why they were in the book as much. And I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about the presentation. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to feel threatened by rising conservative Christianity or if I’m just supposed to be made aware that it’s out there. There were sections of the novel that grated and slowed down due to the diatribes that went on.

Overall, though, readers wanting a suspenseful tale well told will enjoy First Daughter. It’s a blistering quick read with a hero that will become real to you.

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