Source: Review copy
Publication: 12 October 2021 from MacMillan
My thanks to MacMillan and Random Things Tours for an advance copy for review
After a tumultuous period in American politics, a new administration has just been sworn in. Secretary of State, Ellen Adams, is determined to do her duty for her country. But she is about to face a horrifying international threat . . .
A young foreign service officer has received a baffling text from an anonymous source. Too late, she realizes it was a hastily coded warning. Then a series of bus bombs devastate Europe, heralding the rise of a new rogue terrorist organization who will stop at nothing in their efforts to develop their own nuclear arsenal.
As Ellen unravels the damaging effects of the former presidency on international politics, she must also contemplate the unthinkable: that the last president of the United States was more than just an ineffectual leader. Was he also a traitor to his country?
I have to admit that I was intrigued by this collaboration. I really like Louise Penny’s books and that Hillary Clinton was going to be working with her was a tantalising prospect. So what was the book going to be like? The answer is that it is not full of the kindness and peace that Penny’s Inspector Gamache books bring. Rather this is a geo-political thriller much more akin to a marriage between a Sam Bourne thriller and the TV series Madam Secretary, starring Téa Leoni. That’s a plus point for me, as I love both.
State of Terror is a well written thriller that begins with terrible events in London that will be all too familiar to readers and uses that as its starting point for a thriller that takes us around the world to the key pressure points of international diplomacy in Korea, Pakistan and Russia, to name a few.
At the centre of this pacey and at 500 pages, not inconsiderable, novel is the newly appointed Secretary of State, Ellen Adams. Adams is a surprise appointment for this President. She is a media mogul whose TV channels did not support Douglas Williams in his bid for the Presidency and there’s a lot of surprise in Washington at his choice of Adams for Secretary of State.
But she hardly has her feet under the table when bombs start to go off in Europe and a junior Foreign Service Officon the Pakistan desk, Anahita Dahir, belatedly finds a coded warning message. This is the cue for Ellen Adams to begin saving the world with the help of her long term friend and trusted adviser, Betsy Jameson. I’m not going to lie; I loved the whole ‘women save the world’ part of this novel because they do so by outwitting the men through a blend of guile, charm and sometimes just by looking clueless. They’re a pair of younger, more dynamic Miss Marples, really.
The best bits though are not the insight that Hillary Clinton brings to the book – though; we are given an insider’s view of what life is like in the White House and especially in the situation room in a time of international crisis, and although this is not really new, the level of detail is fascinating. It is possible to imagine what it must feel like to spend days on end in the air, not quite knowing what time or even day it is as you cross time zones; then having to be statesperson-like as you are wheeled out to meet world leaders and expected to be on top of your game. You also, from this book, get a keen sense of what it must be like to be patronised by a succession of men, both in the White House and abroad who assume you are not up to the job. How often Hillary Clinton must have had to bite her tongue in the interests of diplomacy.
What I loved best though were the sharp, barely hidden jibes at world leaders which must surely reflect the views of Clinton herself. You really don’t have to look far to find the last President, the Republican Eric Dunn who is characterised as ‘delusional’, ‘President Dumb’ and whose actions in withdrawing from a nuclear accord with Iran and in making an agreement with the Taliban, without protecting the advances made in human rights there, have left the United States vulnerable to terrorism.
His successor, Democrat Doug Williams is barely better and Ellen Adams thinks him a fool even though he has appointed her. Britain’s Prime Minister Bellington, is an entitled buffoon given to spouting random Latin phrases.
So we see Ellen Adams and her counsellor, Betsy Jameson, tackling two of the biggest fears of our age; the dramatic undermining of democracy from within our own country (as an aside here, can I commend you to read David Puttnam’s retiral speech on this subject) and in the US combined with the extremely scary idea that nuclear weapons could be obtained by terrorists.
Fronting the terrorism is Dr. Shah, an arms dealer who is happy to trade nuclear weapons to the highest bidder. A long term nemesis of Elizabeth Adams, Shah had been under house arrest in Pakistan but Eric Dunn in the last days of his Presidency asked the Pakistan Government to release him. Now he’s taunting Adams and is planning to detonate these bombs in the US and it’s only Ellen Adams who is standing in his way.
As if that were not enough, there is a conspiracy at the heart of the White House threatening treason, insurrection and an armed coup which means that knowing who to trust is a very real problem. In the insider’s bar, Off the Record, where gossip is traded and rumours begin, the former President’s press secretary is making a fool of himself by drinking too much. What he is up to will help expose the fault lines in the White House.
A whirlwind diplomatic mission gets underway as Ellen and Betsy together with Ellen’s adult children Katherine, who now runs the media empire and Gil, a journalist, set about saving the world and ensuring the rights of people across the world are respected and the trust of people in the democratic process United States is restored.
Verdict: I really enjoyed this high-stakes thriller. It’s clearly a fantastical work of fiction, but rooted in real world geo-political problems. There are lots of thrilling moments, some great sarcastic one-liners, lots of intrigue and insight into the Washington village. What’s not to love? There’s even a nod to Louise Penny’s own series. The book ends with the potential for another thrilling tale… and I’d read it in a heartbeat!
Hillary Rodham Clinton is the first woman in US history to become the presidential nominee of a major political party. She served as the 67th Secretary of State after nearly four decades in public service advocating on behalf of children and families as an attorney, First Lady, and US Senator. She is a wife, mother, grandmother, and No 1 Sunday Times bestselling author of seven previous books, all published by Simon & Schuster.
Louise Penny is an international award winning and bestselling author whose books have hit #1 on the New York Times, USA Today, and Globe and Mail lists. Her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels, published by Minotaur Books, an imprint of the St. Martin’s Publishing Group, have been translated into 31 languages. In 2017, she received the Order of Canada for her contributions to Canadian culture. Louise Penny lives in a village south of Montréal.
Photo: c Dominique Lafond and Deborah Feingold