Reviewed by DAVID L. VINEYARD:         

ERIC VAN LUSTBADER – Last Snow. Forge Books, hardcover, February 2010.


   Eric Van Lustbader made a big splash with the first book in his Nicholas Linnear series, The Ninja, and staked out a place for himself in the best selling thriller stakes with tales of intrigue and adventure that usually involved his heroes in adventures with an Asian background.

   When that ran its course he seemed to founder a bit, made an ill advised attempt to change his name from Eric Van Lustbader to Eric Lustbader, and for a while seemed to have dropped out of the game. Recently he came back strongly, however, with Testament, and was chosen by the Robert Ludlum estate to continue the popular and lucrative Jason Bourne franchise.

   His books have always been strong on compelling narrative and notable for a sensuality missing in many of his contemporaries works.

   Last Snow is the second book in a series that began with First Daughter (Forge, 2008), and like so many series today it’s almost impossible to read one without some reference to the other, so I’ll briefly outline the events in the first book as they apply here.

   Jack McClure is a tough ATF agent whose best friend is President-elect Edward Carson. Jack’s daughter Emma has died, the tragedy putting an end to his marriage and leaving Jack devastated, and one of the few people who feels the same as he does is Edward Carson’s daughter Alli, Emma’s roommate in college. When Alli is kidnapped it’s only natural the newly elected president turns to his old friend for help.


   Political winds are stirring up trouble in regard to Alli Carson’s kidnapping. The outgoing administration wants their strong right wing Christian philosophy to continue to dominate the public debate and are pushing a moderate and increasingly powerful secularist movement as the villains even though the evidence points to a more radical secularist group. (Has there been a radical secularist movement since Lenin?)

   The action is well done and the characterization fine, but over all the politics are cartoonish and a bit silly really. This is no Seven Days in May or Advise and Consent. Seemingly both the far right and the far left have completely forgotten how to write political thrillers, since the right-leaning writers currently churning this sort of thing out are just as bad.

   A quick course in Richard Condon seems desperately needed for both sides. (Not that Condon was never outrageous, but then that was part of his charm — none of these current writers — Lustbader included — are remotely Richard Condon —most of them make you miss William LeQueux and E. Philips Oppenheim.)

   In any case Jack (notice how many of these guys are called Jack since Jack Bauer and 24?) saves the day, and there is some suspense along the way, despite the cartoonish politics. Lustbader writes readable page-turning bestseller prose.


   Last Snow picks up with Edward Carson president. Jack is trying to put his life back together again, and Alli, who suffers from Graves disease and looks sixteen instead of the twenty-two she really is, tends to cling to him after her ordeal. (This is the sort of book where everyone has some defining problem in lieu of characterization — it’s so much easier to give someone a problem than a character.)

   But Carson also relies on Jack, and when a US senator who was supposed to be in the Ukraine shows up dead in Capri under questionable circumstances, he asks Jack to investigate. Jack is with the Presidential party in Moscow.

   An interesting character note about Jack is that he is dyslexic, and through his mentor has learned to use that handicap as an advantage — his mind works differently and he uses that to solve puzzles that others can’t even as he struggles with the everyday world of paper work. It’s a nice touch, and Lustbader makes the most of it creating a reasonable and intelligent explanation for Jack’s considerable talents, even though what I wrote earlier of using these sort of things as gimmicks still holds. One character with a gimmick is fine. More than one and it becomes a crutch.

   If there is one major flaw here it’s that the book suffers from best seller shorthand.

   Berns was Carson’s man in the Senate, and he fears the former administration may use this against him … may even have killed Berns. Jack is to find out what he was doing in the Ukraine and how he died in Capri. His only clue is the name of the man Berns met in the Ukraine, one R. Rostov.


   But before he can leave Moscow Jack meets Annika, a FSB agent (the FSB is the new KGB — Annika’s “problem” is she was sexually abused and tortured by her older brother as a child), and they are drawn together and thrown together after an encounter in an alley with the local Russian Mafia. Annika needs to get out of town and goes with Jack, and when they are in the air of the private plane provided by the President, who shows up but Alli.

   It’s that sort of a book.

   I won’t go into a good deal more. Jack is being played as part of a greater game, but using his skills and instincts, he manages to outwit the enemy and save the day. He is drawn even more closely to Alli, has a romance with Annika, and as might be expected, he saves the day while facing enemies on all sides.

   All in all, a pleasant diversion — a bit better written than most if a shade on the mechanical side. There is even a twist at the end leading to the next book — a twist completely out of left field, that presages major changes for Jack and Alli, but as I said, that’s the next season of 24 — I mean the next book in the series.

   I don’t want to mislead anyone. This is well done and entertaining. It could be a bit more with some effort, but it’s what the publisher and Lustbader’s public wants and it’s hard to fault a writer for delivering what was expected of him.


   I’ll keep reading Lustbader, but I’ll probably keep wishing he took this to the next level as well. Whatever else, he’s a better writer than most of his fellow workers in the bestseller ghetto, and no one can say he doesn’t know how to keep you turning the pages.

   I just wish sometimes the surprises were less the usual kind found in thrillers, and more the kind a really creative writer is capable of.

   But some kudos to Lustbader that he is good enough I think he is capable of more.

   Or maybe I’ve read too many of these and become jaded, though reading this sort of thing Jack McClure’s dyslexia doesn’t always seem such a curse after all.