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The First Counsel

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Aficionados of the hit TV show The West Wing who are sufferingthrough holiday reruns will jump right into Brad Meltzer's third novel (afterThe Tenth Justice and Dead Even), which takes readers into theWhite House office of the president's own law firm and introduces a firstdaughter whose complex psychological problems jump-start this fast-pacedthriller. Michael Garrick loves his job as deputy counsel, but when he falls forNora Hartson, the president's daughter, the conflict between his professionalethics and his growing love for her puts him right in the middle of a murderplot 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 SupremeCourt, which he revealed in his first two blockbusters. He's not as skillful atcharacterization. It's hard to believe that the sociopathic tendencies of peoplein a president's inner circle--or even his family--would have managed to escapethe scrutiny of an FBI investigation during his rise to power. And Nora, inparticular, doesn't quite come off as the misguided victim she must be in orderto make the rest of the story credible. But that's not a huge quibble; Meltzermanages to make Edgar Simon, Michael's boss, the most interesting White Housecounsel since John Dean. The First Counsel is a cleverly commercial mixof legal thriller and political chicanery guaranteed to keep you turning pagesuntil Meltzer puts the third branch of government in his sights, too. --JaneAdams

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