...while Bill’s characters speak loudly and wave their big sticks (they are men), Hillary’s listen intently and use their keen understanding of human nature to outmaneuver their adversaries (they are women) ... The plot in State of Terror is ambitious and apocalyptic. Nothing less than the future of the world is at stake ... don’t worry too much about keeping things straight. This is a romp. The authors have a great deal of fun throwing up red herrings ... Political junkies will relish the veiled insults to real-life people ... may bring Penny into new fictional territory, but her imprint is everywhere. The emotional cast to the writing, the tendency to dangle portents and wait some time before resolving them, the depiction of friendship, the short paragraphs, the philosophical aperçus — these are all marks of Penny’s writing. (Lovers of her work are in for a special little treat at the end) ... If Clinton is slyly settling old political scores, she is also, sweetly, celebrating women’s support of one another later in life, and I was moved by the authors’ notes paying tribute to Betsy Ebeling, one of Clinton’s oldest friends, who died not so long ago and was an inspiration for the character of Betsy Jameson. The ending leaves open the possibility that this is the beginning of a beautiful fictional friendship ... Maybe there’s nothing competitive about celebrity spouses pairing with established novelists and publishing novels within a few months of each other. But I’m going to award the prize for Best Clinton Thriller of 2021 to Hillary.
When politicians write novels, I usually try to avoid reviewing them ... State of Terror is a big, turbocharged, breathtaking exception: It’s one of the best political thrillers I’ve ever read ... what readers might hope for but not often get: a thriller that combines the firsthand, insider knowledge of a former Secretary of State with the writing skills of a master of suspense. Bonus feature: lots of wicked humor ... (You might recall that Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, has written a couple of political thrillers with megabestselling author James Patterson. They’ve done yeoman work, but the ladies outshine them) ... Every new discovery is more terrifying than the last, and what adds an extra layer of dread is that we know Clinton actually held this job. As each appalling detail emerged, I found myself wondering whether it had really happened ... keeps up a relentless pace, with more twists and turns and cliffhangers than I could count. Yet unlike any other thriller character I can think of, Ellen doesn’t punch anyone or shoot anyone or throw anyone out of an airplane. With her, it’s all brain work.
The stakes couldn’t be higher ... It’s wholly ridiculous but consistently entertaining. In an author’s note, Penny acknowledges that after a career of writing crime novels, the idea of tackling a political thriller felt awfully intimidating. But Penny and Clinton demonstrate a sure hand at international intrigue and narrative pacing ... The real key to State of Terror, though, is its secret weapon: female friendship. Despite exploding buses and the grim prospect of nuclear annihilation, these pages are leavened by Ellen’s trusty sidekick, a retired schoolteacher based on a real-life friend of Clinton. International terrorists may have all the materials they need for a dirty bomb, but America has these two middle-aged women with a plan. Honestly, it’s not a fair fight.
To say more would rob readers of the pleasures of discovery in this taut thriller, a story made all the more relevant by the U.S.’s recent withdrawal from Afghanistan. Possessed of both head and heart, State of Terror’s layering of ethical tradeoffs, political intrigue, high-level espionage and pure evil perfectly melds Clinton’s intimate knowledge of the State Department and foreign policy with Penny’s mastery of genre mechanics ... Here and elsewhere in the novel, there is the added frisson of wondering how much of Adams’ opinions and interactions reflects Clinton’s experiences, shared more openly under cover of fiction. That it is hard to tell is a credit to the plausibility of the plot and characterizations that are all too human ... Penny’s contributions are clear and equally effective — intricate plotting, liberal use of quotes from Shakespeare, Heaney, Tolstoy as well as an Easter egg for fans of Gamache, a noted poet from Penny’s beloved series. That, along with a cameo appearance in a scene set in Three Pines, is more than pure fan service; it is a reminder that a refuge from evil still exists in this dangerous world. But occasionally the Penny influence will pull careful readers out of the action, as in a few British/Canadian idioms a U.S. citizen would probably not use. And who knows who’s responsible for an unnecessary portrayal of media ethics that strains credulity and verges on libeling the fourth estate ... There is ample reason to hope that, with more careful editing and further Adams adventures, the Clinton/Penny collaboration will become stronger. State of Terror unites two writers who advocate the same core values while possessing complementary world views across multiple borders.
There are two types of people likely to pick up this book: those who enjoy thrillers and those looking for fresh insight into one of the most powerful political figures of the last 30 years. Neither is likely to be entirely pleased by this slow-moving tale ... sticking with the narrative means accepting that this is fantasy, not a revealing glimpse behind the curtain from Clinton. Indeed, it’s not hard to read many scenes as wish fulfillment. As the story progresses, Adams dispenses entirely with subtlety and discretion to dish out some no-holds-barred diplomacy ... This cozy mystery element is just as fanciful as the rest, but there’s something satisfying about watching two middle-aged women save the world ... More of a novelty for political nerds than a compelling thriller.
Expectedly, but effectively, the book targets Washington misogyny ... the huge appeal of these Washington super-insider novels is the promise of unimpeachable research. When Bill’s President Duncan writes letters to relatives of US troops killed in war, we are tinglingly aware that one of the authors has actually done this ... The novel is geopolitically thoughtful as well, exploring a moral dilemma worthy of John le Carré ... The Clintons will surely be fascinating to future biographers and historians, who may find at least as many revelations in the couple’s fictions as in their memoirs. Bill and James have already released a sequel, and I hope that Hillary and Louise also do. For all the attempted distancing, the reality of high American politics feels tensely, sweatily close.
... pretty darn good ... No, there’s been no inhaling here. On its own terms, it certainly outshines Bill Clinton’s lacklustre last outing, The President’s Daughter. Some of the credit, no doubt, must go to the team’s professional player, Penny. For this geopolitical thriller, the creator of Armand Gamache has found a way, during lockdown, to draw a page-turning plot out of Hillary Clinton’s long public service ... But the real appeal of the novel, apart from a fuel tanker’s worth of political score-settling, is that this is as close as you’ll get to being in the White House Situation Room with a secretary of state. Sure, it’s fiction, but that gives Clinton the excuse to reveal what she otherwise might not about global leaders she has dealt with and the nightmares that haunt her sleep ... one in a series of authorial nods that lifts the tone of what stylistically was always going to be, for cultural and commercial reasons, a chunky, occasionally clunky American thriller, written in bite-sized paragraphs with few literary flourishes ... In the same vein, the most fascinating element of State of Terror is seeing the tactics a secretary of state might use behind the scenes to cajole another power or to match wits with a wily supreme leader of Iran.