Sharp Focus: A First Daughter Mystery

Overview

Eve Cooper takes a glider ride at the Air Force Academy. Shortly thereafter, the same glider is involved in a fatal crash. Just a coincidence, or did someone try to sabotage the plane? Is a killer stalking the President's daughter? Or is the real target her dad? A vivid you-are-there feeling adds extra sparkle to this fast-paced and witty puzzler.

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Overview

Eve Cooper takes a glider ride at the Air Force Academy. Shortly thereafter, the same glider is involved in a fatal crash. Just a coincidence, or did someone try to sabotage the plane? Is a killer stalking the President's daughter? Or is the real target her dad? A vivid you-are-there feeling adds extra sparkle to this fast-paced and witty puzzler.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Former first daughter Ford and co-author Hayden nicely blend action, suspense, humor and a little romance in their second collaboration (after 2002's Double Exposure), a "feel-good" whodunit whose characters hug each other almost as much as a sitcom family. Eve Cooper, the 20-something daughter of widowed President Elliot James Cooper, has quite a list of obligations, from playing big sister and mom to her teenaged brother Drew to helping her Aunt Patsy fill in as First Lady. Eve precedes her dad to the U.S. Air Force Academy, where the president is to speak at the commencement exercises for the graduating class. Only minutes after Eve sets down from a specially arranged flight in an Academy glider, another glider smashes into a mountainside, killing its passenger and seriously injuring the pilot. Was this an accident or a mistimed attempt on her life? Before she can absorb the shock of this close call, bullets begin to fly, and now Eve can be certain that she's the intended target. When she discovers her connection to the passenger who died in the glider crash, she realizes she's going to have to dig through a lot of military garbage to find the stinker at the bottom of the plot. Ford's insider's view of the Secret Service and how their charges cope with all the protective measures lends extra interest to a G-rated mystery that often reads as if it were aimed at teens. (July 21) Forecast: Since the generic title and jacket art give no clue that this is essentially a cozy, readers expecting a hard-edged political thriller may be disappointed. Then again, Ford's celebrity will more than offset any shortcomings of plot or character. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312284992
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 7/25/2003
  • Series: First Daughter Mysteries Series , #2
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Ford is the daughter of President Gerald R. Ford and Betty Ford, and spent her formative years living in the White House. She has had a successful career as a photojournalist and has been active in such organizations as the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the Gerald R. Ford Museum, the National Breast Cancer Awareness Program, and the Betty Ford Center. She is in great demand as a public speaker and lives in New Mexico with her family.

Laura Hayden is an award-winning author and scriptwriter who has published seven novels. She lives with her family in Colorado.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY PUBLIC AFFAIRS

ACADEMY ANNOUNCES GRADUATION GUEST SPEAKER

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, COLO.-Elliot J. Cooper, President of the United States of America, is scheduled to deliver the commencement address to the class of 2003 at the 45th U.S. Air Force Academy graduation beginning at 11 A.M., May 28, in Falcon Stadium ...

"Good God, Diana. What are you trying to do? Kill me?" I whispered to the woman who was strapping me into the seat.

She tightened the harness. "Not at the moment, but I may change my mind if you don't sit back and let me get on with it," she said.

My favorite Secret Service agent, Diana Gates, was in the process of restraining me in what looked to me like a death trap. It was the Secret Service's job to protect me and my family. But I was having some doubts about their intentions right now.

"Are you absolutely sure this is safe?" I asked.

"Nope," Diana said. "But the Air Force is-and they should know." She gave one last pull on a piece of canvas webbing and stepped back, ready to let the professionals take over.

Several Air Force cadets stepped forward at her signal to check over every detail of the tiny aircraft I was sitting in, as well as the straps holding me in it. If I hadn't been so busy worrying about my future survival, I'd have appreciated the view a lot more.

Bring Me Men-that's what it says in big silver letters on the ramp leading up to the Air Force Academy cadet area. When I'd seen the words, I'd had to hide a smile. The phrase sounded more like the secret plea of a high school girl than a military slogan. Now I was surrounded by an assortment of those very men-trust me, the Air Force's finest are easy on the eyes-and I was literally all tied up and too apprehensive to enjoy it. That was despite the fact that I knew that the men checking my straps were every bit as concerned about my future survival as I was. My dad was, after all, technically their boss.

0

My name is Eve, and I'm the First Daughter. My father is President Elliot James Cooper, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and Leader of the Free World. I just call him Dad. And because of Dad, I was about to take part in something that the Air Force considered a high treat.

It's not that I mind flying. I like it-in large jets with even larger wings. With bathrooms. And engines-I like having engines. Lots of them. The more, the merrier.

But I was now immovably attached to a flying machine that looked like a child's toy, not an aircraft. And it was completely engine-free. My confidence in the theory of drag and lift shrank accordingly.

Diana moved closer once the fly guys gave her the high sign. "You ready?" Despite the fact that Diana had her game face on-that official Secret Service blank stare-I'd gotten to know her well enough to realize she was suppressing a small, unauthorized grin.

But Diana's expression didn't keep my attention for long. No, right now I was far more interested in the yellow glider I was sitting in, attached to its tow plane by a rope.

Not a steel cable, but a rope.

A thin rope.

Somehow, that didn't seem right to me.

Diana's attention was elsewhere, scanning the tarmac, as she remained on the lookout for danger. In this crowd it was unlikely to materialize, but it was her job to watch. The glider I was sitting in was parked on the runway of the U.S. Air Force Academy, just north of Colorado Springs, right on the edge of the Academy's eighteen thousand acres of beautiful Colorado landscape, and we were waiting for clearance for takeoff.

The local Air Force personnel wanted to make sure the time I spent with them was memorable. As I sat in that glider, my face frozen in what I hoped was a pleasant expression, trying not to hyperventilate, I knew they'd succeeded. I was just scared enough to have this moment indelibly engraved on my brain for the rest of my life.

I was here because Dad was to be the main speaker at this year's Air Force commencement celebration. It's traditional for the President to make the obligatory "For God and Your Country" speech to one of the three service academies each year-working in due course through the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, West Point in New York, and the Naval Academy in Annapolis. It was no secret that Dad was thrilled that the Air Force Academy had been first up in the rotation for him. He'd done a tour in the Air Force as an officer, and had stayed active in the reserves for a long time. He might not be an Academy grad, but some of his best friends were. And those blue-suiters do tend to stick together.

I'd been thrilled too. I grew up and went to school in Colorado, and had taken the opportunity to come in early to catch up with some old friends. As a consequence, I beat Dad to the Academy by a good six hours.

Dad was due to arrive in Air Force One later today at nearby Peterson Air Force Base, much too late to do me any good. Right now I was the only Cooper in sight. The glider ride was mine. The things I do for the press and my country ... it always amazed me.

But I needed to look less scared than I felt, because the press was watching. I didn't want to let Dad down.

At the edge of the tarmac, the light of flaring camera flashes threatened to blind me as the media took advantage of the photo op. Diana's vision was, I hoped, in better shape than mine. I wouldn't be able to spot a threat right now unless it was the size of a city bus.

"Do I have to do this?" I asked, even though I knew I did.

Diana didn't even look at me. "No. But Captain Perky will be so disappointed if you don't."

"Durkee," I corrected. That was the name of the crackerjack military media liaison who had been my guide for the VIP tour all morning. The captain was probably my age, but the severity of her uniform and her haircut made her look older-or at least much more mature. She also knew her facts and figures cold. She was the reason I knew that the Academy grounds covered eighteen thousand acres.

"Whatever," Diana replied. "Don't worry. People go up in these things every day."

"It's not the going up that bothers me." I said. "It's the coming down. Straight down."

"We've been told the glider has been thoroughly inspected. That shouldn't be an issue," Diana said. In this context "We" meant Diana and the new agent who'd been assigned to me from the White House detail for this trip, John Kingston. Evidently, the higher-ups in the Secret Service thought it was wise to match Diana with someone who was impressively large. Trust me, Kingston was huge. He looked like an agent, all right-a free agent signed by the Washington Redskins, rather than a Secret Service agent.

Lord knows, the Skins could use someone with his heft and reflexes this year.

pardBig as John Kingston was, Diana was just as capable of protecting me. Diana was fast, tough, and smart. I'd learned that back in February when she got me out of a nasty situation-one that could easily have resulted in both of our deaths. I always felt safer when Diana was around.

But in a few minutes, I'd be on my own. The glider could hold only one person besides the pilot. That would be me. Just me. No protocol officers. No journalists.

No agents.

It was a naked kind of feeling.

I was probably being paranoid. Here, smack in the middle of the Air Force Academy, should be a very safe place to be the President's daughter. And there was a Secret Service agent in the tow plane-I wasn't going to be completely alone while I was up in the air.

On the other hand, this particular Air Force base was the biggest tourist attraction in the state. Visitors came and went in large numbers through more than one open gate. And Dad's speech had been scheduled for months, with the time and location widely publicized, as was the fact that he was bringing his daughter along. Anybody looking for a newsworthy target for trouble would know exactly where to find us. And if I needed help while I was in the glider, that Secret Service agent in the tow plane wasn't exactly within walking distance of me.

So that naked feeling was all too real. I hadn't been "by myself" in public in months-since before the election last November. The protection had been even more intense since the day Dad stood on the Capitol steps and repeated the oath of office. From that moment on, any time I stepped outside of our private residence (and I'm not talking the entire White House, just parts of it), I had a security tagalong. Here it was, the end of May, and I'd finally gotten accustomed to the comfort factor of their presence.

I glanced at the pilot who was to be my sole companion in this brief foray into the wild blue yonder. He looked like a typical cadet, with his short dark hair and his chiseled, freshly scrubbed face. His smile could only be described as Top Gun cocky.

A fighter pilot-in-training, I bet. Dad had warned me about guys like that.

I knew enough from the tour so far to realize that the patterns of silver rickrack on his uniform meant that he was a "firstie," which was Academy-speak for a senior. His name badge read "Taylor 'The Jokeman' Dobbs." Fulfilling the promise of his nickname, he immediately stepped off on the wrong foot.

0"Hello, pretty lady," he said with a wink to Diana. "With agents like you on duty, the security checks will be a pleasure. Can I volunteer for a strip search?" I think it was supposed to be a joke.

Rule number one: Never joke with Secret Service agents while they're on duty. That privilege is reserved for my dad, and even he doesn't try it too often.

Rule number two: Never put the moves on a female agent while she's on the job.

I half expected to see "The Jokeman" fly across the tarmac and end up with the dusty imprint of one of Diana's black dress flats centered on his back.

But Diana was too professional to lose it over something so insignificant. She merely gave the cadet a glare that made him shrivel up and shrink down like a salted slug.

All the better to fit into a small glider ...

Deflated now, he turned his attention to me, trying to resurrect his Tom Cruise smile. "Have you ever ridden in a glider before, Miss Cooper?"

"No." That was the truth. "I'm looking forward to it." That was a whopping lie.

"You couldn't have picked a better day. The weather is perfect for a good soar."

Falling on my months of experience in the public eye as the First Daughter, I conjured up a pleasant expression. "Then, shall we?"

I repositioned my camera free of the harness, reminding myself that I'd gone through worse to get a good photograph. Prior to my father's election, I'd been a professional photographer based in Denver. I'd worked part-time for the NPS wire service, covering everything from the beautiful bodies walking the world's catwalks to not-so-beautiful bodies found dead in abandoned cars, and I liked to think I was pretty good at what I did, even if I was currently unemployed. This flight promised to give me a unique perspective on the academy-at least, visually.

I mustered up a smile for Diana. "Banzai ...," I mouthed. I'd been informed that this particular glider was used as a trainer, so all the dials and the controls I could see had corresponding duplicates in the rear seat, which would be used by the pilot during this flight. I prayed that "The Jokeman" wouldn't do anything stupid while we were in midair, like say, "Here, you try it...."

John Kingston, my other agent, leaned over, checked the straps holding me in my seat, and gave me a reassuring smile. "Don't worry. I fly gliders as a hobby. Before I went up the first time, some guy told me that it was a lot like another very popular leisure activity." He winked. "The first flight's the toughest, then you fall in love with the sensation. And nerves on your maiden voyage are perfectly natural. He was right. I survived mine. You will too."

"Really?" Surprised by the length, not to mention the content, of what amounted to an epic speech from the normally silent agent, I gave John a once-over. Kingston weighed somewhere between 250 and 275 pounds-nearly all of it bone and muscle. If John could do this, then maybe I wasn't going to fall out of the sky today.

Maybe ...

Kingston gave me a thumbs-up, then stepped back as the pilot got ready to take off and two other cadets closed the canopy.

I could hear the engines revving on the tow plane, but we weren't moving yet.

Then I felt a slight lurch as the slack was pulled out of the towrope. The little glider jumped forward. A few seconds later, we were rolling down the field behind the tow plane. At first it was really noisy in the cockpit; then suddenly the sound level lessened. I pressed my face to the clear canopy and looked down, realizing that although the tow plane was still on the ground, we weren't.

I wondered if this was what it felt like to ride a kite.

Then the tow plane lifted off and we started gaining altitude. Despite his nickname, Cadet Taylor "The Jokeman" Dobbs got down to some serious business.

"This part of the flight may be a little bumpy," he said. "But things'll smooth out once we're on our own." He had to raise his voice to be heard over the rushing wind and engine sounds of the plane ahead of us. "In the meantime, I can tell you a bit about the Academy."

Dobbs kept his spiel serious and straightforward-a quick summary of the history of the Air Force Academy, which pretty much jibed with what I'd gotten from my briefing before the trip. It was established in 1954, it was the newest of the service academies, it served roughly four thousand cadets, and so on.

I'd worried a bit about what Dobbs might be like after I saw his nickname, but as it turned out, I didn't have to. Like all the other cadets I'd met today, he performed his job well and with a certain amount of flair.

Despite his moniker and my initial negative impression, I found myself liking him. Yeah, he was cocky, but he was also really competent. After all, the U.S. government spends millions and millions of dollars training the students at all the service academies to be all they can be. I was dealing with the end result of that training: the very fit, very well mannered, and very bright people I'd met today, from the youngest cadet to the highest-ranking officer. They were, taken singly or as a group, an attractive bunch. Including "The Jokeman."

I was drawn to these military types. Some of that was probably because of Dad-who is the finest man I know. Dad spent years in the Air Force. Because of Dad, I knew that a big part of a military education centered on when and how to kill our country's enemies. The people at the Academy were warriors.

Copyright © 2003 by Susan Ford Bales

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    fun amateur sleuth cozy

    Being the First Daughter of US President Elliot James Cooper carries enough responsibilities for any person to cope with, but Eve Cooper also shares First Lady chores with her aunt since her mom is dead. Thus Eve journeys to the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs where her dad will provide a congratulatory speech to the graduates at the commencement ceremony. Part of her itinerary is to fly in an Academy glider, so Eve hides her fears and accomplishes the task. <P>However, not long afterward, a glider smashes into the nearby mountains, killing one person and seriously injuring an another. Feeling paranoid, Eve wonders whether someone meant to assassinate her, but blew the assignment. Soon her theory proves correct as someone tries to kill the First Daughter. However, Eve refuses to remain in SHARP FOCUS as a lame duck target by attempting to uncover the identity of the executioner although that leaves her doubly exposed. <P>The key to the second First Daughter mystery (see DOUBLE EXPOSURE) is the insight into a First Family provided by co-author Susan Ford, a former White House resident. The tale is an amateur sleuth cozy rather than a deep political thriller, but Eve is a delightful protagonist especially when she performs required tasks in which she must hide her apprehension or disdain from the ever-present media. Fans who enjoy a cozy with an intriguing lead protagonist will want to read the latest collaboration between Ms. Ford and Laura Hayden. <P>Harriet Klausner

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