Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny want to entertain in ‘State of Terror’ — but it’s also about real and frightening dangers

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Of all the things that wake former US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in the night that scares her more than any other: that a terrorist might get their hands on a nuclear weapon.

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That’s the scenario that drives “State of Terror,” the new thriller Clinton co-wrote with Canadian crime writer Louise Penney, best known for the Inspector Gamache mysteries set in Quebec.

Penny explained, “I brought the writing chops and Hillary brought the geopolitical and[insider insight].” “As it turned out, our skill set and our experience fit in perfectly.”

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Penny, Clinton and I are talking via conference call—an echo of the way the pair wrote the book over the past year and a half when they were first approached with the idea: Why can’t they get together? Meet and write a thriller?

Not that the idea was without precedent, after all: Hillary’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, and American author James Patterson have produced two thrillers together. Was there any sign of competition?

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“Well, we’re clearly hoping to do well, aka better…” Clinton said, and she and Penny broke up in a storm of laughter.

While Penny had never written a political thriller and Clinton had never written fiction, he did come up with a proposal that, to his own surprise, he thought would work.

Broad strokes: The White House has a new president, installed after a turbulent four years in which the previous administration “touched everything…” says Ellen Adams, a former media mogul whose daughter is still is involved in business and whose son is a journalist, is appointed secretary of state. London and Paris have just been hit by terrorist attacks. He has to figure out who’s next – and who’s responsible. But the government and the intelligence network are in such a dilapidated state that they do not know whom to trust.

“All our characters are fictional. I want to make it absolutely clear,” Clinton said. “But of course, some of their characteristics and behaviors are inspired by real people.”

In fact, there are some very recognizable characters in the book: The former U.S. president, Eric Dunn, “is known even to his closest aides, most notably, as Eric the Dumb.”

He and Penny have met a lot of interesting people in their lives, so can draw on many different characteristics and perspectives. So Dunn isn’t based on any former president we may be familiar with, but “a fictionalized version of a president who, over four years, showed us that you could have a president who was manipulated by foreign powers, Which was indifferent to institutions and the rule of law,” Clinton said.

While creating his characters may have been fun, he also wanted to pay tribute to some friends. It was a way of dealing with the grief that the two authors were processing, the recent deaths of people close to them: Betsy Johnson Ebeling, a friend of Clinton’s since grade school who introduced Clinton and Penny in 2016, a Introduction that blossomed into friendship; Penny’s husband, Michael Whitehead, who died in 2016; Ellen Tousher, who was Clinton’s secretary of state and whom she had known for 25 years, was the under secretary of state.

“Although they are fictional versions of those people, it makes them immortal to an extent, which is an important thing for us,” Penny said.


While “State of Terror” is a thriller, it’s a smart thriller, with Clinton’s theft of insight to propel it forward. There are nuances in the situations, in the characters, and in their relationships.

Here’s an example: On opposite pages—the book’s layout is a happy coincidence—there are two characters: Allen Adams, who “loved his country,” and Iranian nuclear scientist Nasreen Bukhari, who “loved his country.” She will do whatever is necessary to protect it.

“It was important to say that the people we disagree with politically love their country,” Penny said. “Everybody believes he is a patriot and everyone believes he is a hero. I think it was very important for Nasreen to be a patriot, but at the same time she was on the verge of doing something terrible.”

“It certainly applies to the conspirators inside the US government in the book,” Clinton said. “Misguided militias, however evil they may be, have the ideology that they believe they are somehow true patriots. His view of the United States is far from what I think, you know, what most of us believe we are or should be… We wanted to write a book that had nuances; It wasn’t just a slam-bang thriller.”

The insights we gain also include interesting details as Secretary Adams goes about the day-to-day business of being Secretary of State. Going to a meeting and handing over all cellphones to security to ensure privacy. Using an aircraft nicknamed “Air Force Three”. Tension in a room when life is at stake.

“I wanted to pull back the curtain. I wanted people to feel not only for high-stakes diplomacy, but also about the day-to-day work and procedures that a secretary of state did,” Clinton said. “It’s not a big deal, but it gives an air of authenticity to Ellen’s role and the work she’s doing.”

“It’s thrilling too!” Penny added. He clearly enjoyed the breadth and depth of the material that working with Clinton got him to write the characters.

Ideas and ideas such as Alain Notting influenced the book as well, during a video-conference meeting with foreign ministers from Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the UK, that “it was a loose alliance that could break at any moment.” The moment. The thing that held it together was not mutual respect but mutual need.”

Mixing it up there are hilarious moments, as during the aforementioned video conference, Canada’s foreign minister (Joseline Tardiff), still wearing her moose and bear-covered pajamas, “sucked out of a deep sleep” to meet at 2 a.m. “.

Clinton and Penny burst out laughing. “You had to bring it up!” Penny laughed. “Hillary brazenly mocks me because I’m in my flannel moose pajamas when we’re doing our FaceTime at 7:30.”

“I had a great laugh about it,” Clinton said. “And then we had to get the Moose Pajamas in the book.”

Which brings us to Horseslips. They’re an Irish rock/folk band – Clinton has a deep ties to country and was recently named chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast – and the band’s mention has slipped a little easter egg for their friends and fans. “We had a lot of fun,” Clinton said. “One of the things we hope our readers will do … as the book comes out is to find some of those little treasures with which we have seeded the book.”


Many times, when Ellen Adams leads the conversation, she will pause and consider the people around her, potentially affected people, and what they may be thinking or feeling. This is a big part of how Clinton says she saw diplomacy work.

“I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the subtext of the words was, what was the person’s personal interest across the table that I needed to better understand if I was going to work with this person.”

Being a woman on the international stage is even more difficult, one would think. The harshness of what she faced on a day-to-day level, and what she brought into it, comes through in the way she writes Ellen. “Ellen Adams was used to people who underestimated her. Full middle-aged women were often underrated by younger men,” he wrote.

Writing women “like us” who are often underestimated was important to Penny and Clinton.

“It was a small mission … These characters weren’t characters you would often see in a political book, certainly not a political thriller. And it was really important for us to have them at the center of the action,” Clinton said. .

as she herself was.


One of the most powerful things about this book is that it is rooted in truth and truth can be terrifying. Clinton writes in a note at the end: “It is a work of fiction but the story it tells is timely.”

And she remains worried. “I know from prior experience that terrorist groups constantly try to get enough nuclear material to make a dirty bomb or something bigger and even more lethal,” she said. “This is a very realistic and frightening scenario that we all need to be more vigilant and do whatever we can to prevent.”

We have been entertained. Consider us a warning.

Deborah Dundas is Starr’s Books Editor. He is based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @debdundas



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