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Book Review: The First Daughter by Eric Van Lustbader

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Eric Van Lustbader’s latest book, The First Daughter, is a sometimes taut, sometimes dragging political thriller with a heavy dose of religious debate interwoven into the plot. President-elect Edward Carson’s daughter Alli has been kidnapped and Carson enlists the help of his friend, and ATF special agent, Jack McClure. Carson is a moderate politician, taking over from a fervent evangelical President who is busy trying to put away leaders of an atheist organization, who the President brands as terrorists. This brings in some super-secret dirty ops agents who are working with the President and against McClure. Meanwhile Alli is being held prisoner by a mysterious operative who uses aliases of famous criminals. His goal is to brainwash her into a killing machine to do his bidding. And Alli’s coming mission of death brings Jack right into the President’s crossfire.

The plot is lean and straightforward, but there is an surprising character trait. Jack McClure is dyslexic. It’s an interesting twist to the character, one that balances a fairly stereotypical background of an abusive childhood/life on the mean streets. Do any of our heroes have normal upbringings any more? But McClure’s clunky backstory aside, his character plays the know-it-all tough guy, but plagued by the memories of his dead daughter and his labyrinthine relationship with the ex-wife, McClure is remarkably vulnerable. His daughter was killed a few years earlier and the memory is still fresh in his mind. He has a contentious relationship with his ex-wife, but remains steadfastly loyal to his friends.

The heavy-handed religious conflict between the fire and brimstone President and the militantly atheist “terrorist’ organizations sometimes drags down the action. This is supposed to be a thriller after all. There is a real tendency for all the religious people to be portrayed in the story as radical evangelicals and the atheists as radical leftists. Not so much shades of grey in the story. But that passes about halfway through, letting the action and mystery take over from there.

There is an underlying theme of redemption that goes through the story touching not only McClure but others as well. McClure’s character is given the bulk of the personal revelations, but the other characters are fleshed out as well. There’s not too much thrown away. And Lustbader peppers the story with interesting music references, showing an appreciation for bands like Arcade Fire and The National. It doesn’t stick out like someone trying to sound hip, but fits in with how Jack McClure deals with his daughter’s death.

All in all, The First Daughter is not a bad read, and has enough action to recommend to fans of the political thriller genre.

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