I had been seeing this book advertised in Shelf Awareness for a while, and was intrigued by the premise, but was not able to procure a copy for myself on account of not living in the States. So sad (well — for that reason only). But then I was offered First Daughter by the very friendly TJ at Planned Television Arts. I finished the novel a week or two ago and, surprise surprise, I have some thoughts.
But first, let’s take a quick peek at the dust jacket blurb:
Jack McClure has had a troubled life. His dyslexia always made him feel like an outsider. He escaped from an abusive home as a teenager and lived by his wits on the streets of Washington, D.C. It wasn’t until he realized that dyslexia gave him the ability to see the world in unique ways that he found success, using this newfound strength to become a top ATF agent.
When a terrible accident takes the life of his only daughter, Emma, and his marriage falls apart, Jack blames himself, numbing the pain by submerging himself in work. Then he receives a call from his old friend Edward Carson. Carson is just weeks from taking the reins as president of the United States when his daughter, Alli, is kidnapped. Because Emma McClure was once Alli’s best friend, Carson turns to Jack, the one man he can trust to go to any lengths to find his daughter and bring her home safely.
The search for Alli leads Jack on a road toward reconciliation . . . and into the path of a dangerous and calculating man — someone whose actions are as cold as they are brilliant, and whose power and reach are seemingly infinite.
Faith, redemption, and political intrigue play off one another as McClure uses his unique abilities to journey into the twisted mind of a stone-cold genius who is constantly one step ahead of him. Jack will soon discover that this man has affected his life and his country in more ways than he could ever imagine.
That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? And it’s basically accurate. When I saw the ads I was particularly interested in the idea of a dyslexic hero … both because P is dyslexic and I like to know things about it, and because it’s not something you read every day. Big cop protagonist: that’s normal. Protagonist escapes from abusive home: ho hum, don’t they all these days? But a protagonist who battles terrorists and a learning disability, that’s kinda neat.
Kinda neat … but not really enough to sustain the whole plot. First Daughter starts extremely slowly, and it took six or seven chapters before I really felt like I was starting to get into it. And then I did, and it’s a tolerably decent thriller. You know, good guy, crazy bad guy, helpless victim, shocking twist ending, and the like. There are some thinly-veiled current world leaders thrown in. It’s actually pretty run-of-the-mill, dyslexia notwithstanding.
The thing that really turned me off, though, was that as much as First Daughter was advertised as a book where “faith, redemption, and political intrigue” interplay, it’s really a story where anti-faith and political intrigue get together. The main message of the novel was relentlessly anti-religious, particularly anti-Christian — Christians especially were consistently portrayed as massive hypocrites or simpletons or both. Now, I know that not everyone is willing to accept Christian doctrine — but there wasn’t any attempt here at intelligent debate or rational discourse on the subject. It was more like grade ones on the playground: “Booger-brain!” “Pumpkin-head!” “God-believer!” “Cauliflour-nose!”. Not attractive. Instead of exploring issues, Van Lustbader resorts to snide remarks and jabs. The idea that Christianity is for morons is presented as a foregone conclusion. And whether or not you agree with that conclusion, it’s still presented extremely poorly. Biblical stories are misquoted. It’s a sloppy, sloppy, argument.
First Daughter was an okay read, but I would not particularly recommend it.