In First Daughter, ATF agent Jack McClure is brought in on the search for Alli Carson, the daughter of the U.S. president-elect, and former roommate of Jack’s deceased daughter Emma. Jack must conduct his investigation amid a tumultuous political climate, in which varying loyalties within different government agencies imperil his investigation and his life.
The suspense in this mystery is not whether or not Alli Carson will be found alive, since we see her safe and sound at the inauguration at the book’s outset, but who is behind the kidnapping, and what is their connection to Jack’s past?
Jack is a mess. He suffers from dyslexia, struggles with the demons of his youth, and is wrought with guilt over the death of his daughter and his contribution to the end of his marriage. His faith has failed him as well, and has only been further eroded by a former friend’s affair with Jack’s then-wife, and another friend’s fall from grace. The exploration of Jack’s past, accomplished through flashback chapters, is exceedingly well-crafted. Lustbader’s unreeling of Jack’s memories is done at just the proper pace to join the two plot lines at the book’s climax.
The conflict between faith and reason is central to this story. The outgoing president is a caricature of the worst traits attributed to George W. Bush by his detractors. He is depicted as arrogant, quick to attack, and overly influenced by the evangelical wing of Christianity. The president wants to frame one of two prominent atheistic organizations for the kidnapping, and has no qualms about fabricating evidence in order to do it. There is a great deal of dialogue and narrative devoted to the influence the religious right wields in the United States.
Many Christians will feel that Lustbader is attacking their faith, and some reviewers have even commented as much, but the story presents neither side in an entirely favorable light. It is also important to remember that these are fictional characters engaged in discussion and debate about a real-world issue. Discourse on sensitive topics should not be quashed because some people perceive anything other than praise as an attack, and I think Lustbader does a good job of getting the reader to give serious thought to a delicate subject.
First Daughter is an intriguing mystery that keeps the reader guessing until the end. While I would not go so far as to call the story redemptive, it leaves the reader thinking. The action might be a bit thin for some thriller fans, but readers who like their adventures with a heavy dose of mystery will find themselves right at home.