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First Family    by David Baldacci order for
First Family
by David Baldacci
Order:  USA  Can
Grand Central, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

My favorite of David Baldacci's characters return in First Family - the crime-fighting duo of Secret Service agents turned PIs, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell. In their previous adventure, Simple Genius, Michelle imploded. She uncovered a drug ring during her voluntary commitment in a private clinic, but never really faced secrets in her past that had long haunted her. They continue to disturb her as First Family opens.

The primary story involves the kidnapping of the First Lady's niece, Willa Dutton, soon after her twelfth birthday party at Camp David. The child's mother (who had recently asked Sean to meet with her) is murdered when she fights to save her daughter. The First Lady, Jane Cox, with whom Sean has some history, insists (despite the objections of both the FBI and Secret Service) that he and Michelle work to bring her beloved niece home unharmed. Complicating the situation is the fact that the president is in the middle of a re-election campaign.

Baldacci soon introduces readers to his criminal mastermind. He's a surprisingly genial - but very tough and totally determined - old codger who lives on what's left of the family plantation in Alabama. Sam Quarry's motivations remain shrouded until late in the story. He uses his army deserter son Daryl and Daryl's two friends to carry out his orders, and he's set up a most unusual trap as part of his end game. Though readers meet him early, Sean and Michelle follow all kinds of false trails on their way to the truth.

In parallel with the main investigation, Michelle is suddenly called home to face a death in her own family, one that finally forces her to come to terms with the demons in her childhood that have driven her to despair.

First Family is a trademark Baldacci thriller, starting from an unusual premise, and packed with action and surprises all the way through. While what happens is often over the top - and perhaps more so than usual this time - I always enjoy rooting for Sean and Michelle, and hope to read more of them soon.

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