A Book Spy Review: ‘The First Family’ by Michael Palmer

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The First FamilyOn top of being the president’s son, sixteen-year-old Cam Hilliard is also a chess prodigy. However, a year into his father’s second term, Cam quits playing chess and becomes much quieter, though nobody is really sure why.  

Frederick Gleason, the senior White House physician, believes that Cam’s condition is psychological — though his mother, the First Lady, completely disagrees.  Secret Service agent Karen Ray, charged with protecting Cam, agrees with the First Lady, and secretly consults with her ex-husband, Doctor Lee Blackwood. Blackwood, a respected physician, agrees to provide a second opinion. Lee quickly realizes that Cam’s problem is much more serious than the mental disorder Doctor Gleason wants to treat him for, but can’t quite pinpoint exactly what’s ailing the teenager. 

While Blackwood tries to figure out how to treat Cam — a process that involves tracking down patients with similar symptoms — Karen begins investigating the True Potential Institute, where Cam usually played chess. Blackwood and Karen’s paths cross again when they find out that Cam and other kids were given controversial meds. . . and that Cam isn’t the only child experiencing alarming symptoms. Things worsen when Cam’s spleen ruptures. Shortly after, Blackwood finds out that Cam’s genes are mutating in a way that he’s never seen before, and in a way nobody thought possible. 

I’m not sure how much of the science in this book is authentic, or if there really are people out there experiencing symptoms like Cam’s — but what is abundantly clear is that for a medical thriller, The First Family lacks, well, thrills. The plot itself isn’t really believable, which isn’t exactly unique in this genre. Readers generally know to suspend their disbelief when diving into thrillers, but Palmer might ask a bit too much of his readers here. While the characters are solid, The First Family lacks suspense and becomes overly predictable on its way to a ho-hum ending that lacks punch. 

From a medical and scientific standpoint, The First Family is intriguing. The setup isn’t bad, but the story falls apart more than once and, unfortunately, never truly recovers.

Book Details

Author: Michael Palmer
Pages: 352 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1250107423
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: April 17, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 5.0/10

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Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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