Fasten your seatbelt; it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Those are (or should be) the pilot’s instructions as you begin reading the novel State of Terror, co-written by Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that this is a political thriller. It’s mostly about international politics, but not entirely. We may assume that Clinton is responsible for the Washington and foreign-policy info, though it’s not the least bit clear who wrote what. The protagonist is Ellen Adams, a female Secretary of State who had been nominated by the newly elected Democratic president; the nomination surprises everyone, since the two of them had been bitter enemies in the primaries. But this is fiction—there’s nothing to see here, so move along. The new president had defeated the Republican incumbent, Eric Dunn, an unprepared authoritarian bully who is known for telling lies and is pals with the president of Russia. But this is fiction—there’s nothing to see here, so move along. I could go on…
At this point you might be thinking that it’s a roman à clef. But it isn’t. For instance, look at the sequence of the two presidents in question. And Adams is a media mogul before running for president. And her son is a convert to Islam. So there are many echoes of the real world, but very few direct parallels. Mostly what we have is the threat of terrorism with very short notice, the possibility of a high-level Washington official being a domestic terrorist, and personal tensions between the president and the secretary of state.
With all that, it may surprise you to hear my favorite sentence from the novel: “Those who underestimate teachers do so at their peril.” OK, you know why that’s my favorite, but what does it have to do with the story? You’ll have to read it to find out, but be prepared for a “can’t put it down” experience!
Two more points:
- What did Louise Penny contribute as co-author? We have no idea! Possibly she did most of the actual writing. She surely wrote a short segment that takes place in Three Pines, where a few of her familiar characters make cameo or off-stage appearances. But more than that? I don’t know. I would have liked a larger role for Armand Gamache and friends.
- As I often do, I listened to the audiobook version. While narrator Joan Allen was perfectly serviceable, she just doesn’t compare to Robert Bathurst, who narrated several of Penny’s previous novels. And she needs to practice her French! In the Canadian scenes she often mangled the pronunciation of “Armand” in particular. There’s nothing like mispronouncing a name of a person or place to take the listener out of the story!