The ties between former US Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Canadian novelist Louise Penny, known for her detective story series with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, were no longer a secret for no one since the visit of the Clinton family in the Eastern Townships, in 2017, at the invitation of the writer. In the thanks at the end of State of Terror, we explain how this friendship took shape. First indirectly, after Louise Penny’s meeting with Hillary Clinton’s best friend, Betsy Johnson Ebeling, who gave her first name to one of the characters; then through a letter of condolence sent by the Democratic candidate to the novelist in the middle of the electoral campaign, in 2016, to underline the death of her husband, Michael Whitehead. Louise Penny’s agent then came up with this idea for a political thriller that the two women would co-sign. Their collaboration was silenced for more than a year, while they exchanged on the disaster scenarios that could bring a Secretary of State from sleep at 3 a.m.
Even if we often find ourselves wondering, when reading State of Terror, to whom we owe these lines attacking the “quasi-criminal incompetence” of the previous United States government – and they are as frequent as they are entertaining – it would be impossible to discern the slightest change of tone in this novel written at four hands. The thriller chronicles the grueling beginnings in office and the hectic pace to which a secretary of state recently appointed by the new president is subjected, who seems neither to like nor to trust her, and who would have chosen her simply because she was one of his fiercest opponents. As Secretary of State Ellen Adams returns from a trip to South Korea, just in time for the President’s speech, we learn that there has been an explosion in London. Then in Paris. And a coded email, sent to the State Department to a former US Embassy attache in Islamabad, raises concerns about a third. Meanwhile, a Pakistani nuclear physicist fled to Frankfurt. The three stories intertwine to embody Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare when she was Secretary of State (2009-2013), that of the nuclear threat. Note that she is not the first Clinton to sign a work of fiction, she who wrote many essays and even a children’s book with her daughter: her husband, Bill, co-wrote two political thrillers. with American author James Patterson – The president has disappeared (2018) and The president’s daughter (2021).
Above all, what makes the strength of this novel is the experience that transpires through the character of Ellen Adams, and that we owe to Hillary Clinton: the attention that women in politics must pay to their look, their make-up, their clothes; this impression of strength and control that they must project at all times to inspire respect. We also liked this attention to detail which gives the story all its credibility: the security measures to be respected and which weigh down the daily life of politicians, the hierarchical system which also causes its own obstacles, the consultations in high places which are as usual. small windows on an ultra-protected world … In addition, the authors do not censor anything – because politicians can also be bad tongues. The two authors plunge us into the heart of American power, within political pettiness and this world apart from Washington, where “appearances are often much more powerful than reality”. And for Louise Penny fans, there is also, in State of Terror, a nod to Three Pines, in Quebec and to Armand Gamache. No one will have been forgotten.
While waiting for the French version of State of Terror – State of terror – which will arrive at Flammarion Quebec on March 10 (translated by Lori Saint-Martin and Paul Gagné), we will be able to see and hear the two authors talking and talking about their book again. Louise Penny and Hillary Clinton have planned a virtual tour in October, with (virtual) stops in a few major American cities, but also in London and Toronto. Two special events are also planned at Hillary Clinton’s favorite bookstore in Chappaqua, NY, and Louise Penny’s, Brome Lake Books, in Knowlton. The two women have also scheduled radio and TV interviews throughout the week, including on CBC and many morning shows in the United States, as well as Seth Meyers’ late night show on Monday night, where they had fun to joke about the fact that the character of the former president, responsible for these “four years of chaos” which caused so much damage and for which they piss themselves off in the book, is fictitious… even if they had no trouble imagining it.
State of Terror
Louise Penny et Hillary Rodham Clinton
Simon & Schuster/St. Martin’s Press