Monday, August 18, 2008

First Daughter Review & Interview with Author Eric Van Lustbader

First Daughter is a thrilling tale of political intrigue, a shocking crime, and one man’s love and loss that will keep you guessing until the very last page.

Alli Carson, the daughter of President-Elect Edward Carson, has been kidnapped just weeks before the Presidential inauguration. Carson personally calls in ATF agent Jack McClure to aid in the search for Alli.

Brilliant and perceptive, Jack is different; an Outsider. Jack is dyslexic and, while he struggles with simple tasks such as reading, his condition gives him an advantage over the other investigators. Because of the unique way his mind works, he is able to pick out details that would be lost to other people. He also has a personal connection to the case: his daughter Emma was Alli’s best friend and college roommate. Emma was killed in a car accident months earlier, and Jack still harbors a tremendous amount of guilt and sorrow because of her death.

During the course of the investigation, it becomes clear to Jack that whoever is behind Alli’s kidnapping is also connected to a crime that touched his life twenty five years earlier, and, surprisingly, the last conversation he ever had with Emma.

The novel starts with a jaw-dropping twist just prior to President Carson’s inauguration. First Daughter then takes the reader back to the search for Alli as well as points in Jack’s adolescence. All of these events build towards the threat we know is waiting at the inauguration. Flashbacks can be tricky things, and generally I’m not a fan of them as a literary device. If used unwisely, flashbacks can ruin the narrative flow and make the story seem choppy and disjointed. Eric Van Lustbader, however, uses these glimpses of the past very effectively. He masterfully weaves the flashbacks into the main narrative so that rather than disrupting the main story, they enhance it.

I enjoyed the political elements of First Daughter, but the real highlight for me was the variety and quality of the characters. There’s the ultimate corrupt politician in the outgoing President, the disenchanted teenager in Alli, the anguished mother in Lyn Carson, the gangster with a heart of gold in Jack’s surrogate father Gus, all culminating with the broken, grieving father and brilliant investigator in Jack McClure.

First Daughter is a timely political thriller that is sure to excite and surprise readers. Clear some time on your calendar during this election year to enjoy Eric Van Lustbader’s latest offering.

Rating: 8/10

Buy First Daughter:
Indiebound | Powell's | Amazon

I'm very pleased to welcome Eric Van Lustbader to discuss his new book, First Daughter. Thanks, Eric, for sharing your time with me and the readers of Bookish Ruth. Could you tell us a little bit about First Daughter?

First Daughter is a special novel for me because it's very personal in so many ways. Jack McClure, especially, is someone I identify with in a very intimate way.

President-Elect Carson and the current President are two very different politicians. Did real-life politicians inspire or influence these characters at all?

I think the inspiration for the outgoing president is obvious. As for Carson, I took as inspiration my ideal candidate, which would be someone in the Rockefeller Republican mold, that is, a liberal, forward-thinking man.

The outgoing President is never mentioned by name in the book. Why is this?

I didn't want to date the book.

One of the things that most interested me about First Daughter is the fact that Jack is dyslexic. My mother is dyslexic and I'm often amazed at how her mind works. I recognized a lot of her in Jack. Do you have any personal experience with dyslexia? What prompted you to create a dyslexic character?

I wanted Jack to be a damaged person, but I wanted him to more than that -- an Outsider. It seemed to me that someone who saw the world -- and learned about it -- in a different way than most people would make the most impact on readers. I think I was right. Along the way, however, I discovered how wrong my assumptions about dyslexia were. It's far more complex and fascinating than I knew -- and terribly misunderstood, even by people whose children are dyslexic. I myself exhibit a number of traits of dyslexia in the way I learn, process information and think.

Early in the story another character tells Jack, "We all have a secret life, not just you." Jack discovers the truth of that statement in a lot of ways, doesn't he?

His wife says that to him and, yes, it's a loaded statement, one which will guide Jack on his journey of discovery throughout the course of the novel. It is, of course, his daughter who has a secret life he slowly comes to understand.

I really enjoyed the parts of the book that delved into Jack's adolescence. Gus is a great character and becomes a father figure to Jack. Could you tell us a bit about your creative process with Gus?

I honestly don't know how to answer that question. Gus was created wholly from my unconscious. Believe it or not, I never sat down and sketched out his character. He was literally created as I wrote him which, I think, is why he's a most compelling character.

There's a very touching scene where Gus takes Jack to the zoo after hours to show him a marmoset. Why did you pick that animal in particular?

I love marmosets. To me, they're fantastic, mysterious. Looking into their faces I see a wisdom and intelligence that's entirely unknown to human beings. Of course, that may simply be a figment of my imagination!

Although Jack's daughter Emma died months before, she's a very big part of the story. Both Jack and Alli draw a lot of strength from her. Was it difficult to write a character that the reader only meets through the eyes of other characters?

In fact, when I began the novel I never envisioned Emma being such a huge part of the story. Like Gus, she was another character who wrote herself into the novel. This turned out to be extremely personal. My wife and I lost a child before it was born. This was a long time go, but some incidents affect you forever. This was one. I suppose creating Emma as a real character, even though she's dead, was a way for me to work out my long-held grief, to believe that our child exists on some plane unknown to us.

Music plays a large role in First Daughter. How much of your personal taste in music is reflected in the book?

I have very eclectic tastes in music and I'm a restless listener, I'm always searching for new music. So I would say that the music in the novel reflects my deep love of it, my belief that music plays a powerful part in how we grow up. As for the actual artists and songs, I tried to get into my characters heads in order to intuit what they would like, so that the music is an outward reflection of their differing personalities.

If First Daughter were made into a film, who could you see playing Jack?

Ha, that's a good one! Matthew Fox from Lost is someone who immediately comes to mind.

Alli, Emma and Jack were all profoundly affected by writers such as Hunter S. Thompson and William Blake. What writers influenced you as a teenager and young man?

I had many: Besides Thompson and Blake, Adam Hall, John Fowles, Robertson Davies, William Golding, Len Deighton, Ian Fleming, Jack D. Hunter. But the writer who had the most powerful and lasting influence on me is Colin Wilson, especially his seminal work, The Outsider, in which I first began to recognize myself.

You've created a fascinating character in Jack McClure. Will we be seeing more of him in future books? What's your next project?

Oh, yes. I have plans for Jack, Emma and Alli, too. Right now, I'm working on the next Jason Bourne novel, The Bourne Deception. After that, I hope to get to Jack's next adventure.

First Daughter by Eric Van Lustbader goes on sale tomorrow. Click here to watch a video trailer for the book.


  1. Looks really interesting!

    Hey, you won a book at Books on the Brain. Send me your address at lisamunleyATcaDOTrrDOTcom.


  2. Great review and interview! You came up with some really good questions, far better than mine. I agree about the characters - I think they elevate this book a little above the common thriller.

  3. Great review!! I just finished writing mine, which I always try to do before I read any others. All I can say is...I bow to yours....(I'm not they said in Wayne's World! ;o)

  4. I remember seeing this one on the LibraryThing ER list and thinking it looked interesting.
    Your review and the interview has me thinking that I was right! lol

    Guess I will have to be looking to add that to my TBB (to be bought) list...and then my TBR pile...

  5. Excellent interview, Ruth! You've been busy connecting with authors this week, haven't you?!

    I do the same thing *bookfool* does, if I have the book to read and review I like to write my review before reading others.

  6. Love the interview! Good catch about the President never being named :)