State of Terror

Recommendation: If political thrillers are your holiday reading of choice, you cannot go wrong her

Where to read: It’s winter, get yourself nice and cosy under a large blanket

Read with: Several large glasses of the Chardonnay of your choice

In brief: Bill Clinton is up to two thrillers now, co-written with James Patterson. Sorry Bill, but I’d rather read this. I would also rather this than almost any other political thriller I have ever read.

I, like a very significant number or women in 2017, remember suffering through What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s searing account of the 2016 Presidential election. By the time it was published, Trump’s incompetence and malignance had become crystal clear, and the true cost of her loss devastatingly clear (not that this should have been any surprise to anyone). In that context, reading What Happened felt something like purgatory.

State of Terror is a far more pleasant read – fictional (thank god), occasionally light-hearted and one of the most absorbing political thrillers I have ever read. Part of what makes this so fun is Clinton’s insight into the workings of Foggy Bottom, along with the casual character assassination of thinly veiled world leaders (as you would imagine, Trump, Putin and Boris Johnson come out looking particularly bad). There is also an entertaining, if perhaps overcrowded, set of supporting characters I desperately hope have no real life counterparts. What really makes it shine, however, is Clinton and Penny’s portrayal of female power and friendship in the face of egregious sexism and dismissal; the two central characters are Secretary of State Ellen Adams and Betsy Jameson, her oldest friend and counsellor at the State Department, both with a Miss Marple-like genius for exploiting the ways middle aged and older women are underestimated or regarded as invisible.

The plot is frequently a bit OTT but I don’t mind it at all – Clinton’s experience lends a certain amount of credibility and because it is mostly jet-setting diplomacy rather than outrageous action sequences, it rarely feels silly or gratuitous in the way most thrillers do. One also gets the the distinct sense that Clinton is using this format, much like Lawrence Wright in The End of October, to discuss serious concerns in a more palatable form.

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