Debut political thriller by nationally syndicated columnist MacKinnon (the nonfiction Footprints, 1989, not reviewed), who worked as a writer for the Reagan and Bush administrations and knows the White House corridors well. The First Lady as a victim of spousal abuse turns out to be a plot hook more intriguing in the abstract than in practice. Handsome, blue-eyed Turner Ryan, 48, moves from his six-year term as Governor of California to President of the United States. But Ryan has one very dark secret: uncontrollable rage that leads him to wife-beating. Ravishingly beautiful Sabrina Ryan, 37, adored by her Secret Service protectors, is in fact Ryan's punching bag. His blows to her body don't show, but the bruises on her neck (from Turner's attempts to strangle her) do. We follow Ryan's first weeks as President, but politics take a distinct backseat here as the story focuses almost entirely on the love affair that grows between Sabrina and Duncan Smith, the President's embattled press secretary, and on Turner's villainy. He's even willing to use his and Sabrina's 11-year-old daughter, Heather, as a pawn to keep his wife in line. Sabrina's dilemma deepens as Turner, who intends to be a two-term president, threatens to make her disappear altogether and to raise a brainwashed Heather himself. At the same time, his nefarious second-in-command, Vice President Robert Hannon, and Hannon's gay Chief of Staff, Bill Rogers, attempt to blackmail Turner. Although Turner's wife-bashing is kept under wraps by the Secret Service, revealing whiffs of scandal drift by the Washington Post, where Pulitzer Prizewinner Rick Adams is assigned to find the truth behind the White House walls. Meanwhile, a gorgeous terrorist sets out to assassinate the President. There's swiftness here, sharp tough dialogue, and a graphic sense of life inside the White House. But MacKinnon cheapens the theme of spousal abuse by being content to use it for cynically melodramatic effect: Turner is a one-dimensional monster, and the novel he's in soon becomes merely a routine (and bloody) thriller.