I love Louise Penny. I’ve talked at some length about her Three Pines mystery series, and how I have come to depend on the gentle company of the characters she has created.
I knew this would be different. As a political thriller, I expected that the plot would be twisty, and confusing. I thought that I wouldn’t be able to keep the characters straight, or the locations. I thought that I would probably have a decent grasp of the larger plot arc, but that the details would be fuzzy. I say these things because it’s been my experience with a lot of political thrillers.
I also hoped that Secretary Clinton would lend an air of credibility to the whole thing, that I would somehow feel that THIS Secretary of State was the real deal, where others had been imitators.
How I actually felt is, perhaps not completely shockingly, more complicated than that.
Named one of the most anticipated novels of the season by People, Associated Press, Time, Los Angeles Times, Parade, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, and more.
From the #1 bestselling authors Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny comes a novel of unsurpassed thrills and incomparable insider expertise—State of Terror.
After a tumultuous period in American politics, a new administration has just been sworn in, and to everyone’s surprise the president chooses a political enemy for the vital position of secretary of state.
There is no love lost between the president of the United States and Ellen Adams, his new secretary of state. But it’s a canny move on the part of the president. With this appointment, he silences one of his harshest critics, since taking the job means Adams must step down as head of her multinational media conglomerate.
As the new president addresses Congress for the first time, with Secretary Adams in attendance, Anahita Dahir, a young foreign service officer (FSO) on the Pakistan desk at the State Department, receives a baffling text from an anonymous source.
Too late, she realizes the message was a hastily coded warning.
What begins as a series of apparent terrorist attacks is revealed to be the beginning of an international chess game involving the volatile and Byzantine politics of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran; the race to develop nuclear weapons in the region; the Russian mob; a burgeoning rogue terrorist organization; and an American government set back on its heels in the international arena.
As the horrifying scale of the threat becomes clear, Secretary Adams and her team realize it has been carefully planned to take advantage of four years of an American government out of touch with international affairs, out of practice with diplomacy, and out of power in the places where it counts the most.
To defeat such an intricate, carefully constructed conspiracy, it will take the skills of a unique team: a passionate young FSO; a dedicated journalist; and a smart, determined, but as yet untested new secretary of state.
State of Terror is a unique and utterly compelling international thriller cowritten by Hillary Rodham Clinton, the 67th secretary of state, and Louise Penny, a multiple award-winning #1 New York Times bestselling novelist.
So, here’s the good stuff. A lot of what I hoped for is what I got. It’s a tight thriller, and the plot seems to hold together fairly well. We go on a whirlwind tour (on Air Force Three, natch) of the world’s current hot spots, starting in Korea, and stopping off in Pakistan, Iran, Islamabad, Russia, London and Frankfurt. Along the way, we meet various stern heads of state, and sort-of-shady operatives, whose motives aren’t clear, and may or may not align with ours. We also meet the current POTUS, and his idiot predecessor, who may have been the catalyst for much of the goings on.
So. Was it a great book?
No. It wasn’t. I mean, it was fine. It was an ‘as expected’ political thriller in a lot of ways. It was well-written, and there was a point where I was literally carrying my kindle from room to room, as I put cookies in the oven or made a bagel, because I could not put it down.
But it also let me down in a couple ways that are tricky to talk about without spoiling some stuff, so I’m gonna put a spoiler warning here and then proceed apace—
I hate writing a review that includes spoilers. But there are two things specifically that I have fault with and there is no way to talk about them without some specifics. I mean, I guess I could just say that there were a couple things I didn’t like, and not tell you what those were, but doesn’t seem particularly useful.
So, thing the first. Wow, this book is informed by current American politics. Like, there really wasn’t much point to changing some of the names. I criticized Penny for being a little heavy-handed in her last book, but that was a feather-light touch compared to the cudgel she employs in this one. Trump is everywhere (he’s called Eric Dunn in the book). His presence hangs over almost every page. And that would be fine…maybe in a couple years. Decades. But we are living in the middle of this, right now, and it’s hard to have any perspective on a fictional version of our actual life.
The second problem is Penny’s other book series. If I had never read another Louise Penny book, I don’t think I would have noticed, or been bothered by, her ham-fisted need to insert characters from the tiny hamlet of Three Pines, Quebec, into this narrative.
If you don’t know her other books, they are light mysteries set in a tiny, tiny town in Quebec, too small to even make it onto a map. Even people who were raised in Montreal seem surprised by the existence of the town. It’s THAT small. So when characters that I love from that series just kept popping up randomly…to say that it was jarring is an understatement. It took me completely out of the narrative. To have Armande Gamache himself called on by the American Secretary of State to do some interrogating…IN THREE PINES…of an ex-pat journalist living there under a pseudonym…
It was too much.
So, was it a good book? Yeah, it was. Did it have pretty huge flaws? Yeah, it did. Will I read the inevitable sequel? I don’t know. Maybe.