Book Review: Hillary Clinton’s Debut Novel State Of Terror Turns On The Rings, Arts News & Top Stories

State of terror

By Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny
Thriller / Macmillan / Paperback / 493 pages / $ 32.95 / Available here
3 out of 5

When two Clintons release political thrillers in the same year, you have to wonder if there isn’t a little marital competition going on.

Former United States President Bill Clinton wrote not one, but two volumes with thriller veteran James Patterson – 2018’s The President Is Missing and this year’s The President’s Daughter, both starring presidents fictitious a little too loaded with testosterone to be more than a wish. exercise.

Maybe he should leave the thrillers to his wife Hillary.

The former U.S. Secretary of State has teamed up with Louise Penny, the Canadian author of the famous Chief Inspector Gamache Mysteries, for her fiction debut.

Here, too, is a familiar figure, a politician in a pantsuit whom contemporaries are quick to dismiss as a clumsy middle-aged woman.

Former media mogul Ellen Adams has just made a disastrous first outing on the diplomatic scene. She has been appointed secretary of state by the president she campaigned against and is sure he is setting her up for failure.

But then a series of bombings explode across Europe and Ellen is embroiled in a race against time to stop a devastating threat.

She must outsmart terrorists and unravel a plot within the highest echelons of the U.S. government – all while being patronized by disparaging colleagues.

State Of Terror is a high octane thriller with the mind-boggling complexity of an onion – every time you think you’ve peeled the last layer, there’s another.

It’s written in a useful way for the most part, with a repetitive passage or overripe metaphor here and there.

Writers appreciate the strange literary reference – there are nods to the epic of Gilgamesh and the Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

A poem by John Donne is overloaded with symbolic meaning: “When you did, you didn’t, for I have more.”

It’s lovely at the first quote, but after it’s been trotted for the umpteenth time to herald even more geopolitical desperation, you feel like shouting “no more”.

The book presents the level of detail one would expect from a former secretary of state – from tense conclaves between intelligence agencies to confrontations with the Russian president and Ayatollah of Iran.

Much of the plot turns out to be due to damage caused by the previous US administration. At one point, Ellen confronts a barely disguised avatar of Mr. Donald Trump, who defeated Hillary Clinton for the US presidency in 2016. It looks like she’s settling scores on the page.

What sets State Of Terror apart from a simple vanity project is that it’s not a one-woman show but an ensemble.

Ellen may be the one who travels the world dabbing world leaders in their dens, but the plot makes room for a cast of others.

There’s Anahita Dahir, the young foreign service officer who receives a coded bomb warning but is ignored by her superiors until it’s too late; and Betsy Jameson, the counselor to Ellen, a former housewife-like schoolteacher of the 1950s, whom the rest of the administration underestimates at their expense.

Betsy is based on Clinton’s childhood friend Betsy Johnson Ebeling, who died of breast cancer in 2019.

Despite all the thrills and overflows, it’s the bond between Ellen and Betsy that gives the novel its strength – from their tying private code to texting to their instinct to protect each other.

The genre could use more of them – harassed but competent middle aged women saving the world together.

If you like that, read: Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld (Transworld, 2020, $ 19.80, Available here), an alternate story in which Hillary Rodham never marries Bill Clinton and later finds herself running against him for the presidency of the United States.

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