STATE OF TERROR by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny
Book Review by Jim McCarthy
Sadly, the state of terror engendered by this novel was visited upon this reader.
The tale traces the ruthless revenge pursued by a clever and genius nuclear physicist against an American Secretary of State for reasons that are not always evident. The narration is opaque on this score but places the Secretary in the primary role of protagonist along with a coterie of family, friends, and workmates.
There is a breathless character to the story emphasized by the absence of any descriptive paragraphs about locations, character development, or backgrounds. Despite jet-setting jaunts by the heroine to a number of exotic locations around the globe, one is treated only to runway tarmac instead of local settings. From the opening pages to its end, the tale moves forward by way of dialogue exchanges–sometimes snappy, sometimes cryptic–among the players.
In an almost obligatory fashion, there is the appearance of a Trump-like former president in his Florida digs. The current president is initially seen as a foe of the Secretary’s, but as the tale progresses, they gain a modicum of mutual respect. The plan of the terrorist leader involves bombings in three countries and a final episode of nuclear devices situated in the United States. The Secretary pursues oblique and mysterious coded messages sent by the terrorist and interpreted by her coterie in a journey to preserve the nation and, in some respects, mankind.
Devotees of Ms. Clinton may discover covert references to DC personalities or consider some to be back-handed digs at them. It is impossible to distinguish the contribution of Ms. Penny to this terrorism escapade but she has a reputation as author of a franchise series of police procedurals. Scaling up from that milieu to the international scene may have been a bridge too far. However far, Ms. Penny wove her French-Canadian detective into the plot in a very clumsy episode toward the end of the story.
From yet another perspective, this fictional presentation seems to image the superficiality of the kind of transactional politics visited upon the US in recent years. Despite these shortcomings, State of Terror has appeared in the number one spot in national fiction rankings. That accomplishment must be related more to the popularity of its primary author, the purchasing power of readers, and the pandemic, than to the novel’s literary attraction.