The President's Daughter
by Mariah Stewart, contemporary (2002)
Ballantine, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-44739-5

I always maintained that Mariah Stewart is out of her depths when it comes to writing romantic suspense, and The President's Daughter won't be making me eat humble pie. More frustrating is that the best things about this book are the main characters, and in this book, Ms Stewart tries to downplay the best part of her story - characters - for the weakest - "romantic suspense". Some romantic suspense authors have me wondering whether they really should be even writing at all, but there's no doubt that Mariah Stewart can write. Only, like Dinah McCall/Sharon Sala, she is sabotaging herself writing things she cannot handle well.

For example, when there are people here wanting to kill Dina McDermott, apparently a normal everyday gal, I will not start off this story with a giveaway prologue. Heck, I won't even call this book The President's Daughter. May as well call a book The Butler Killed The Duke Because He Is The Real Heir To The Title. Hero Simon Keller is a journalist who's supposed to be a hard-hitting type (naturally, he doesn't act like it at all), and he is trying to discover the secret of former US president Bill Clinton, I mean, Graham Hayward. Uhm, this book is called The President's Daughter, Mr Keller - what do you think the secret is?

If the notion of a president having an affair and a child out of wedlock will shock America, like Mr Keller believes, I guess he must be living in the caves of Ulan Bator when Bill Clinton and Kenneth Star teach kiddies everywhere catchphrases like "oral sex" and "semen on her dress", and somehow JFK has been wiped-out from the history annals of the US Presidency. Oh, I forgot, we're talking about romantic fiction here, where Presidents don't align themselves to any political party, have dotty First Mams, and Bill and Hillary Clinton are true loves of the century (the last is courtesy of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Eternal Democrat Apologist). Carry on, Ms Stewart.

The bad guy appears, and she - oops, did I give anything away? - may as well wear a neon sign over her head: "I did it!" Trust a brilliant romantic suspense author to reduce everything into female brickbat fighting. Nuclear war? It's because Mrs X is jealous of pretty Ms Y. Murder? It's because Mrs M doesn't like Ms O wearing a prettier dress than she. Why kill the president's bastard brat? Well, what do you think? Why can't psychotic women just visit a shrink to address their daddy issues?

And I love it when this author uses the One Person Who Knows Everything But Won't Tell Until It's Convenient (Late In The Story) thing. Just like bad storytelling plot devices like the Noble Mother Suddenly Gets Leukemia And Dies In Time For Tearjerker Ending thing and the I Finally Finds A Letter In That Place I Never Thought To Look Throughout The Whole Story And Weeps As I Realize How Much Daddy Loves Me, He Really Loves Me thing, this Dumb Know-It-All plot device is a sure-sign of shoddy and unoriginal plotting.

It's too bad, really, because Dina and Simon aren't bad characters. Predictable, maybe, but maybe if the author has concentrated on their love story instead of that Suspense That Isn't thing, The President's Daughter may just achieve some degree of entertainment value. As it is, by downplaying its good points and pushing forth an agenda it is ill-prepared to handle, The President's Daughter is a suspense-free, surprise-free muddle of a story. Unsophisticated Dumb-dumb Romantic Suspense 101, if you will. Even more depressing is that dang, this author can write. I wish her editor will show some mercy on her soon and ask her to write some of her (superior) character-driven romantic dramas instead of these... these... eeuw.

Rating: 48

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