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The First Counsel
by Brad Meltzer
ISBN 0446527289 / 9780446527286 / 0-446-52728-9
Publisher Warner Books
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Aficionados of the hit TV show The West Wing who are suffering through holiday reruns will jump right into Brad Meltzer's third novel (after The Tenth Justice and Dead Even), which takes readers into the White House office of the president's own law firm and introduces a first daughter whose complex psychological problems jump-start this fast-paced thriller. Michael Garrick loves his job as deputy counsel, but when he falls for Nora Hartson, the president's daughter, the conflict between his professional ethics and his growing love for her puts him right in the middle of a murder plot that may reach all the way to the Oval Office.
Meltzer excels at plotting, and he knows the back corridors, family quarters, and secret tunnels of the executive branch as well as those of the Supreme Court, which he revealed in his first two blockbusters. He's not as skillful at characterization. It's hard to believe that the sociopathic tendencies of people in a president's inner circle--or even his family--would have managed to escape the scrutiny of an FBI investigation during his rise to power. And Nora, in particular, doesn't quite come off as the misguided victim she must be in order to make the rest of the story credible. But that's not a huge quibble; Meltzer manages to make Edgar Simon, Michael's boss, the most interesting White House counsel since John Dean. The First Counsel is a cleverly commercial mix of legal thriller and political chicanery guaranteed to keep you turning pages until Meltzer puts the third branch of government in his sights, too. --Jane Adams [via]