The President's Daughter
reviewed by Barbara Saffer
President Matt Keating was a Navy Seal, a Congressman from Texas, and Vice President before he ascended to the presidency, and he means to protect America. So Keating orders a drone strike on vicious Libyan terrorist Asim Al-Asheed, who captured and crucified a Navy Seal and slaughtered women and children in cold blood.
The attack misses Asim but kills Asim’s wife and two daughters. Keating is appalled by the death of innocents and goes on TV to apologize. Given the mood of the country this is a bad idea, and Matt’s disloyal Vice President, Pamela Barnes, challenges him in the next election and wins.
Matt is now living in a wooded retreat in New Hampshire, his wife Samantha—an archaeologist—is supervising an important dig in Maine, and the Keatings’ 19-year-old daughter, Mel, is a student at Dartmouth College. Mel is too old for Secret Service protection, and when Agent David Stahl—who’s in charge of Matt’s Secret Service detail—tries to safeguard Mel with trainees, the Barnes administration makes him stop.
This is unfortunate because Asim Al-Asheed, who’s furious about the death of his wife and daughters, has been planning his revenge for years. Thus, when Mel is hiking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains with her boyfriend, Tim, Asim kills Tim and kidnaps Mel. Asim makes demands, but President Pamela Barnes, under advisement from her Machiavellian Chief of Staff, Richard Barnes—who’s also her husband—doesn’t take the steps Matt expects her to.
In the meantime, China sees Mel’s abduction as an opportunity. The United States has been putting pressure on China by filing lawsuits over copyrights and patents, complaining to the World Trade Organization, and running ships and planes near Chinese bases in the South China Sea. Chinese officials want to improve relations with America, and order their agent in Libya, Jiang Lijun, to make a deal with Asim Al-Asheed and rescue Mel. However, Jiang blames America for the death of his father, and engineers plans of his own.
When President Pamela Barnes drags her feet over meeting the terrorists’ demands, Matt reaches out to his friends in Saudi intelligence and Mossad, who agree to help search for Mel. Matt then launches a secret rescue operation of his own, which is discovered by Pamela. The president is vexed, fearing a heroic Matt would vastly outshine her, and she’s willing to do almost anything to stop him.
Meanwhile, Mel is in the clutches of Asim Al-Asheed and his cousin, but she’s not the shrinking violet they expect. When Matt became president, the Secret Service told Mel what to do if she was kidnapped, and these directions—along with Mel’s innate smarts, nerve and bravery—serve her well.
Not everything in this book is as it seems, and Matt’s side has some nifty moves of its own, with planes, helicopters, satellite images, drones, weapons, a certain thumb drive, sheer nerve, and more. The story is told from the rotating points of view of the major characters, and zips along at a steady pace.
My major quibbles with the novel are the stereotypical characterizations of the wicked foreigners, and the depiction of President Pamela Barnes—who lets her pugnacious husband, Richard, call the shots. (A male president would never be portrayed as following directions from his wife.)
That aside, The President’s Daughter is excellent escapist literature. An exciting page-turner that would appeal to fans of thrillers.