The First Family: A Novel

The First Family: A Novel

by Michael Palmer, Daniel Palmer

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“Captures the intense atmosphere of the White House…I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

 —President Bill Clinton on Michael Palmer's The First Patient

Growing up in the White House was never supposed to be easy. So when sixteen-year-old Cam, also a champion chess player, experiences extreme moodiness and an uncharacteristic violent outburst, doctors are quick to dismiss his troubles as adolescent angst. Still, Secret Service agent Karen Ray, whose job is to guard the president’s family with her life, is convinced that Cam’s condition is serious—enough so that she summons her physician ex-husband for a second opinion.

At first, the president’s team doesn’t want to listen to Dr. Lee Blackwood. But when Cam gets sicker, Lee must make a diagnosis from a puzzling array of symptoms. His only clue is a young patient named Susie, a young musical prodigy who seems to be suffering from similar symptoms as Cam. Hospitalized after an attempt on her life by a determined killer, Susie faces increased jeopardy as Cam’s case takes on a terrifying new dimension. Is someone trying to send a message—and kill the president’s son? As Lee and Karen race for a cure to help Cam, they begin to uncover betrayals that breach the highest levels of national security. And until they can find the truth, no one is safe. . .

“Seamlessly blends medicine, politics, and life in the White House into a riveting potboiler of a story…Grabs you by the throat and won’t let go until the last page is turned.” —James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of The Seventh Plague


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250107435
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 03/26/2019
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 94,050
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

DANIEL PALMER is the author of numerous critically acclaimed suspense novels. After receiving his master’s degree from Boston University, he spent a decade as an e-commerce pioneer before turning his attention to writing. Daniel lives with his wife and two children in New Hampshire where he is currently at work on his next novel.

MICHAEL PALMER authored twenty-one novels of medical suspense before his death in 2013, all international bestsellers. His books have been translated into thirty-five languages. Extreme Measures was the basis for a movie starring Hugh Grant and Gene Hackman.

Read an Excerpt



The terror never went away. It should have by now. After all this time, she should not have been so afraid. Her long legs shook beneath the silky fabric of an elegant red gown. She inhaled deeply to calm herself, but perspiration coated her fingers anyway. That could be a problem. Her ears picked up each twitch, rustle, and breath in the cavernous room. They were watching her every move. Her delicate face stared back at them with a blank expression that hid her mounting anxiety.

The concert hall was sold out. Thunderous applause for her had just died down, and this was the brief interlude before the music began. Her heart beat so loudly she feared the microphone would pick up the sound. She stood alone in the center of a large stage, a spotlight targeting her as if this were a prison break. In her right hand she clutched a violin with a bright amber finish and stunning marbled flame, expertly antiqued.

Scanning the hall, she searched for the rangy man with square shoulders and the slender woman who was an older version of herself. There they were in their usual location, third row: Doug and Allison Banks, her parents. Her name was Susie Banks, and she was their only daughter, their pride and joy. Without their support Susie would not be standing on the stage of the Kennedy Center, chosen from hundreds of hopefuls to open the National Symphony Orchestra's evening performance with a solo piece.

This moment had seemed inevitable from Susie's earliest days. She was two years old when she played her first song on the piano — a ringtone from her mother's cell phone she had replicated by ear. Soon she began plinking out melodies she heard on the radio. By the age of five, Susie could play Bach's Minuet in G Major, never having taken a lesson. Words like "prodigy" and "special" got bandied about, but Susie did not understand what it all meant, nor did she care. She had found this amazing thing called music, and the music made her happy.

The day her mother put a violin in her hand, Susie's whole world came into even sharper focus. She felt a kinship with the instrument, understood it in a profound way. One year into her study she flawlessly performed Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 during a student recital. For Susie, the notes were more than dots on the sheet music. As she played, she could see them dance before her eyes, swirling and twirling like a flock of starlings in flight. She would practice daily, hours passing like minutes, her joy unfettered and boundless. She did not have many close friends growing up, always needing to practice, or rehearse, or perform. Yet she never felt lonely, or alone. Music was her constant companion, her first true love.

Now nineteen, Susie was poised for a professional career. She had taken a gap year between high school and college to work on her craft. With hundreds of concerts on her résumé, she had hoped her stage fright would be a thing of the past. But it was present as always and would remain with her until she played the first note.

This was a hugely important showcase. The conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was in the audience specifically to hear her play. If all went well, it was possible she would be moving to Chicago.

Susie set her chin on the smooth ebony chin rest and pushed the conductor from her thoughts. All sound evaporated from the room. She had no sheet music to follow. She had long ago committed the Chaconne from Bach's Partita No. 2 for solo violin to memory.

She took one last readying breath, drew the bow across the strings, and conquered the powerful opening double stop like a pro. The audience, the hall itself, seemed to vanish as she drifted into the other place where the music came from. Her body swayed to the rhythm and flow as Bach's notes poured from her instrument.

The bow and her fingers became a blur of movement. Susie kept her eyes open as she played, but she saw nothing while she felt everything. A brilliant shrill wafted from the violin, a melody sparkling and pure in triple time, followed by an austere passage of darker, more muted tones. Years of dedication, all the things she had sacrificed, were worth it for this feeling alone, such indescribable freedom.

She had reached measure eighty-nine, near the halfway point. Drawing the bow toward her, Susie geared up for the next variation, where the bass became melodic and the diatonic form resumed. Up to that point her playing had been perfect, but suddenly and inexplicably came a terrible screech. Susie's arms jerked violently out in front of her, the bow dragging erratically across the strings. Her chin slid free of the chin rest as her violin shot outward.

A collective gasp rose from the audience. Shocked, unable to process what had happened to her, Susie repositioned the violin. Her professionalism took over. Her reset was more a reflex than anything. She drew the bow across the strings once more, but only a warbling sound came out. The next instant, her arms flailed spastically in front of her again in yet another violent paroxysm, as if her limbs had separated from her body, developed a mind of their own. She tried to regain control of her arms, willing it to happen, but it was no use. The wild movements occurred without her thought, like those body starts she'd been having before she fell asleep: first the sensation of falling, followed by a jarring startle back into consciousness. Only this time she was wide awake. No matter how hard Susie strained, she could not stop her arms from convulsing. It was the most terrifying, out-of-control sensation she had ever experienced.

When the next spasm struck, Susie's fingers opened. The violin slipped from her grasp and hit the stage floor with a sickening crack. Another gasp rose from the audience, this one louder than the first. Susie was helpless to do anything but stand facing everyone with her arms twitching like two live wires. As suddenly as those seizures came on, her limbs went still, as if a switch had been turned off. She raised her arms slowly, studying them with bewilderment. Then, she directed her gaze to the violin at her feet. For a moment she could not breathe. Murmurs from the audience reverberated in her ears.

Bending down, she gingerly retrieved the broken instrument, fearing another attack was imminent. She stood up tall. The violin dangled at her side with a gap in the wood like a missing tooth. She searched the audience for her parents, but could not see them through the haze of lights and the blur of tears.

Frozen in the spotlight, her cheeks red and burning, blinking rapidly, Susie gave one sob as she backed away. A voice in her head howled: What happened to me? She stumbled into the back curtain, fumbling for an escape, pawing at the fabric, desperate to get away. Realizing her mistake, she reoriented to the right and dashed offstage.

The quiet concert hall carried only the echo of Susie's heels, tapping out a fast, unsteady beat.

* * *

ROW EIGHT, center seat.

His name was Mark Mueller, but those who knew him well called him Mauser — a reference to his favorite weapon, the German-made Mauser C96 semiautomatic pistol, last manufactured in 1937. Mauser kept his thick blond hair combed back to expose a wide and flat forehead. The green shirt he had picked out for this concert covered his tattoos and fit snugly against a body that bulged with muscles from years of pumping iron in the yard.

Calmly, Mauser watched Susie come unglued. His gray eyes sparked and his top lip curled, putting an arch in his bushy blond mustache. When people in the audience got up from their seats, Mauser did the same. He strode into the foyer with his cell phone out.

"It happened," Mauser said. He described what he'd seen.

It was all the information Rainmaker needed to mark Susie Banks for death.



Distilled to a few words, Karen Ray's job description was: protect the president's family with your life. The family consisted of Ellen Hilliard, aka FLOTUS, the first lady of the United States, and Cameron Hilliard, the first family's sixteen-year-old son and only child. She had done this particular job for six and a half years now. When she started, Karen had towered over Cam, but these days, standing only five foot four in heels, she was considerably shorter than everyone she protected.

Ellen thought Karen looked like Sandra Bullock with shoulder-length auburn hair. Karen could not see the resemblance herself, but as a woman approaching fifty, she took the comparison as a compliment.

Karen was a special agent, not a "suit guard," a term popular with members of the Uniformed Division. The differences in the divisions of the Secret Service were not subtle. Uniformed guards interacted with the public, wore mostly white shirts and black slacks, and intentionally did not blend. Karen wore tailored Ralph Lauren suits to work, and her domain consisted of anywhere members of the first family happened to be.

At the moment, Cam Hilliard was still in his bedroom on the second floor of the White House. If he stayed there much longer, he would be late for school. Again. The first lady had instructed Karen to make sure that did not happen.

Ellen was busy with a television interview, and her order had sent Karen off in a hurry. She took the same elevator President Geoffrey Hilliard used when his bum hip made it difficult to take the stairs. The elevator could make eight stops, from the subbasement up to the third floor. Karen exited on the second floor.

She marched down the Center Hall, an airy seventeen-foot-wide corridor adorned with landscape paintings and comfortable sitting areas arranged by the first lady. Compared with the ornate décor of the previous administration, Ellen Hilliard's style was more understated, in keeping with her middle-class upbringing.

The president embraced Ellen's choices wholeheartedly. He had a measured approach to just about everything, and cared more about public perception than aesthetics. Anything that did not create controversy (think: expensive remodeling) he supported fully. There was good reason that Ellen Hilliard's favorability rating seldom dipped under 80 percent.

The two floors the president and his family occupied comprised thirty-six rooms and fifteen bathrooms, but these days Cam confined himself mostly to his bedroom. It seemed just yesterday he'd been bouncing around the third-floor game room, or building with Legos in the spectacular solarium that the Clintons had constructed. But Cam had been a nine-year-old boy back then, sweet-faced and innocent, unsure of his family's newfound prestige and privilege. Now Cam was entering a new phase, carried forth on a raging river of teenage hormones. Perhaps when his father's second term in office ended, Cam would emerge from this period of seclusion like a bear waking from hibernation.

Bigger kids, bigger problems. That was how Ellen summarized her recent challenges with Cam — a saying that applied to most parents, regardless of stature. Karen could relate. Her twenty-five-year-old son, Josh, knew perfectly well how to use a phone but rarely bothered to call.

From a distance, Karen could hear the steady beat of electronic music coming from Cam's bedroom, directly across from the Yellow Oval Room where Ellen frequently entertained. Aside from pulsating music, the floor was library quiet. Secret Service agents seldom patrolled the upper levels, and the White House staff were busy elsewhere. Karen and Cam were alone.

She knocked on his door — softly at first, then again with a bit more force — but Cam did not answer. Karen thought she knew why.


She peeked inside and saw Cam, his back to her, intently staring at a digital chessboard on his computer. She figured Cam was winning, because he always won.

Cam was serious about chess, supremely talented, and committed to playing tournaments, each functioning as a rigorous exam, so he could become one of a handful of young players to earn the title Grandmaster, the highest level of chess mastery. Karen did not know how close Cam was to obtaining his lofty goal, but if she had money to bet, hers would go on Cam.

She spoke from the doorway.

"Cam, it's Karen."

She did not have to identify herself. Karen was Cam's shadow; he knew her voice perfectly well.

"Your mom sent me to get you."

Cam held up a finger — a give-me-a-minute gesture.

Karen checked her watch. A minute was all they had.

"You're going to be late for school if we don't leave now."

At first glance, it would be hard to tell a teenager lived in this tidy room. The only giveaway was a mini-mountain of PlayStation games scattered on the carpeted floor in front of the television Cam had fought so hard to have in his bedroom. When it came to winning arguments, Cam's persistence and tenacity could rival some of the president's toughest adversaries. But that was the Cam from before — the kid with spunk and spirit, not the boy who had become withdrawn. For a kid accustomed to the limelight, always quick with a smile, lately Cam had trouble making eye contact.

"Knight c3," Cam mumbled to himself. "Why didn't I see that?"

To Karen's ears, Cam sounded distraught. He was out of his pajamas and dressed in his school uniform — a good sign she could still get him there on time.

"Cam, let's go. You're going to be late."

"Please, Karen, can you give me another second," Cam said. "It's super important."

His pleading tone won out.

"My queen's got the high ground," Cam said under his breath. "Try to castle, Taylor, go ahead and try it."


Now Karen understood Cam's intensity. Taylor Gleason, a high school classmate of Cam's, was the son of the chief White House physician, Dr. Frederick Gleason, and the second-best junior chess player in D.C. To Karen's knowledge, Cam had never lost a match to Taylor, and he did not intend to start losing now.

Cam adjusted the volume on his computer speakers and a mechanized voice rose above the din of electronic music.

"Rook takes e5."

Cam smacked his hand hard on his desk, and Karen could not help but think gunshot. Her whole body tensed.

The computer voice spoke rapidly as the next sequence of moves occurred in quick succession. "Queen takes e5. Queen takes d7. Rook a8 to d8. Queen takes b7. Queen e3, check."

"Got you now, Taylor."

Karen was pleased. Cam sounded animated, when lately talk of chess seemed to bring him down.

The match went on a bit, until the computer announced Taylor's last move: "Bishop b6, checkmate."

Cam clutched the sides of his head as if experiencing an intense migraine. He lowered his hands and took a drink of water from a glass on his desk. After a swallow, he swiveled in his chair, cocked back his arm, and hurled the glass with force at the wall near his bed. The glass shattered on impact.

Karen rushed to him. "Cam! What's going on? Are you all right?"

Cam rose from his chair and began to pace. He was a tall boy, slim like his mother, with short, sandy-colored hair. Beneath his wire-rimmed glasses, Cam's eyes were cornflower blue, also like his mom's, and a jawline was starting to emerge as the cute boy transformed into a handsome man.

"Cam, talk to me. What's wrong?"

Instead of answering, Cam muttered incoherently while he continued to pace.

"I'm going to call Dr. Gleason," Karen said.


Cam barked the word with force. Karen had not expected such a protest, but then again it did mean seeing the father of his rival so soon after a painful defeat.

"Not him. Don't call him."

Cam's shoulders were slumped as he got into bed. He pulled the covers over his head. Karen sat on the edge of his bed. She was his protector, and over the years a bond had formed that went well beyond anything written on an employment contract.

"Talk to me, Cam. Tell me what's going on."

Cam poked his head out from beneath the covers, his eyes reddened as he fought back tears. "I don't know what's wrong," he said. "I don't get it. He beat me. He never beats me, and I'm losing to him now."

Karen was glad to hear him acknowledge that something was wrong.

"Is it the pressure, Cam?" she asked. "It's got to get pretty intense at times. There's no stigma in needing help for — well, your mental health."

Cam bristled. "You sound like Dr. Gleason. He thinks it's all in my head. He's run all sorts of tests and whatnot, but he doesn't get it and now he has my parents convinced I need a shrink."

Karen and Ellen were close, confidants even, but for whatever reason Ellen had kept these developments a secret.

"They're wrong. There's nothing wrong with my head. I'm just — off."

"Have you tried talking to your parents about it?"

"Yeah. A bunch of times, but you know how much influence Dr. Gleason has over my dad."


Excerpted from "The First Family"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Daniel Palmer.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The First Family 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kept your interest to the last page
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fast paced thrill ride.
bookaholique More than 1 year ago
3.5 Cam Hillard is the 16 year old son of the President. When he is stricken with a mysterious illness, it is up to Secret Service agent Karen Ray and her ex-husband Dr. Lee Blackwood to work together to determine the cause of his illness. Even though they are no longer married, I liked how Karen and Lee worked together to help Cam. They run right into a political brick wall as the President has to decide what is right for his son versus what is politically correct. This was a slow burn of a novel as suspense builds with each clue that Karen and Lee uncover. This was a good story about perseverance and dedication to doing what is right. I received this from St. Martin's Press via Netgalley.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The latest medical thriller by Michael Palmer continues the family’s tradition of penning highly readable and absorbing commercial fiction. As the book opens, the President’s son is taken mysteriously ill as well as does another young girl. Enter Dr. Blackwood and his ex-wife, a Secret Service agent. Their task is to find out why the President’s son is ill and how to ensure that more people are not affected. Soon unknown conspiracies are floating around the White House and its personnel. The plot never slows, and we are drawn into a conspiracy that if unsolved will terrify many throughout the world.
whatsbetterthanbooks More than 1 year ago
Descriptive, entertaining, and action packed! The First Family is a scientifically intriguing medical thriller that takes you into the heart of the White House and delves into the effects of alternative medicine, training, and practice on higher-level cognitive skills. The writing is crisp. The characters are intelligent, protective, and relentless. And the plot is an engaging tale about greed, corruption, friendship, politics, mysterious illnesses, violence, and murder. The First Family doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seat or feature a lot of suspense, but it’s still a compelling read that fans of stories filled with Secret Service drama, medical analysis and scientific jargon will definitely enjoy.
LisaB95 More than 1 year ago
I received a copy from NetGalley and St Martin’s Press I’ve always LOVED Michael Palmer. This is the first book I’ve read by Daniel and boy does he follow in Michael’s footsteps. I’m so happy to see the legacy lives on. It was interesting that the patient is the presidents 16 year old son, Cam. A long time secret service agent, Karen, who guards him has concerns about his well being when he becomes withdrawn and lashes out at times. The White House physician just thinks he needs a psychiatrist. Karen calls her ex husband, Lee, who is a doctor, for a second opinion. It’s chilling at what the outcome is. Don’t want to spoil it so I can’t tell. Working in the medical field, this story really sucked me in. It’s chilling to think this could really happen. It’s not too far fetched. My favorite part was how the role and lifestyle of a family physician was explained. People hear “doctor” and automatically think money, when the sad truth is, this day in time, a family physician does good to make ends meet after paying overhead. The ones left practicing are owned by big hospitals and are encouraged to refer everyone to specialists. The ones who truly are in it for the patients give so much of their time for free and also a lot of their services for free. It’s even worse in areas that are 80% Medicare population like here. But I guess I got off the subject here. Read the book, you won’t be disappointed if you love a good medical mystery.
Linda__ More than 1 year ago
This is a phenomenal read that kept me turning pages long into the night. This compelling tale has Lee, a family doctor and talented diagnostician, called in by his ex-wife, Karen, who is a Secret Service agent in charge of the president's teenage son's protection. The son, Cam, has developed some odd symptoms that the White House doctor is far to quick to diagnose as depression. Once Karen calls Lee in, he agrees that the symptoms don't make sense and are worth looking into before labeling as depression. Before long, Cam is suffering one malady after another and Lee is ensnared in a medical mystery that medical school could not have prepared him for. This novel is fast moving and gripping in a way that only a Palmer could tell it. The son, Daniel, is every bit as talented as his father and I am looking forward to reading many more books by him. He's on my must read authors' list and should probably be on yours as well. This is a must read novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago