Having been deprived of my annual fix of Jack Bauer chasing terrorists and fighting to stay alive against a backdrop of political and religious turmoil due to the Hollywood writers’ strike, Eric Van Lustbader’s latest novel, First Daughter, filled the void left by the absence of series seven of 24.
Edward Carson is about to be inaugurated as President of the United States, but only a month beforehand, his nineteen year old daughter is kidnapped. Carson seeks the aid of his old friend, Jack McClure, to find Alli; along with numerous other Secret Service and Cabinet departments.
McClure himself is struggling to cope with the death of his own daughter, Emma, and the subsequent separation from his wife. He also faces hostility and deprecation over his dyslexia from the head of the recovery operation, Hugh Garner. Despite his disability, it allows McClure to see the world and to see problems in different ways, and enables him to solve them remarkably quickly.
The story is tightly plotted, it twists and turns more frequently and more sharply than the River Thames, and there are cliffhangers aplenty. McClure’s past and present are woven skilfully together against events that reference and mirror those of the past eight years regarding American foreign policy and homeland security. If the character of the outgoing president is not a reflection of Bush Jnr I will devour the book again, literally.
As to the other characters, their development is every bit as crucial as the gripping story they inhabit. Their strengths, weaknesses and personas are brought out to air, giving the reader a well-rounded and detailed impression of them all.
Lustbader questions the place of religion within politics, and within society. A scene where the priest comforts Sharon McClure at the funeral of her only daughter by telling her that Emma’s death is part of God’s plan, was just one of many instances which exposed the futile and shallow reasons why God is almost lackadaisically blamed for or credited with everything from the death of a child to starting a war.
Parallels between 24 and the movie of Along Came A Spider aside, First Daughter is an exhilarating political thriller that cannot be put down until it has been read cover to cover. Not only will the pages be turned as quickly as the plot thickens, but perhaps even some sympathy for the first daughter may be aroused.
First Daughter also exemplifies why Eric Van Lustbader has taken over from Robert Ludlum at the helm of the Bourne series of novels. Although normally I am sceptical about authors writing as dead authors, this time I am going to have to make an exception.