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Dominique Lafond and Deborah Feingold Louise Penny and Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny, the bestselling mystery writer, formed a close bond after devastating losses. The result is their first thriller together, State of Terror — drawn straight from the former secretary of state's own nightmares.
"My husband died in 2016. Then Hillary lost the election," Penny, 63, tells PEOPLE in a joint interview in this week's issue of PEOPLE. "We connected so deeply — two wounded women who understood that deep hurt we both had."
State of Terror, which will be published on Tuesday, follows the fictional Secretary of State Ellen Adams, who has been recently appointed by a mercurial new president despite the fact that she's his political rival.
When Adams realizes that terrorist attacks are actually part of a larger international conspiracy, she teams up with a young foreign service officer and a journalist to combat the threat to the nation.
Simon & Schuster/St. Martin’s Press
"In the summer of 2019 we were throwing ideas back and forth [when] Louise said, 'As secretary of state, what kept you up at night?' " explains Clinton, 73. "I told her a couple things. One was the threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists."
Keep reading for an exclusive excerpt from 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 Doug Williams, 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. Ellen Adams now returns from her first overseas diplomatic mission, which has been an unqualified failure, and must face the anger of her new boss.
First, she meets at the state department with her Chief of Staff Charles Boynton, a Williams loyalist who was assigned to work with Ellen.
Together Ellen and her Chief of Staff rushed down the wood-paneled corridor of Mahogany Row toward the Secretary of State's office, trailed by aides and assistants and her Diplomatic Security agents.
"Don't worry," said Betsy, racing to catch up. "They're holding the State of the Union address for you. You can relax."
"No, no," said Boynton, his voice rising an octave. "You can't relax. The President's pissed. And by the way, it's not officially a SOTU."
"Oh, please, Charles. Try not to be pedantic." Ellen stopped suddenly, almost causing a pileup. Slipping off her mud-caked heels, she ran in stocking feet along the plush carpet. Picking up her pace.
"And the President's always pissed," Betsy called after them. "Oh, you mean angry? Well, he's always angry at Ellen."
Boynton shot her a warning glance.
He didn't like this Elizabeth Jameson. Betsy. An outsider whose only reason for being there was because she was a lifelong friend of the Secretary. Boynton knew it was the Secretary's right to choose one close confidante, a counselor, to work with her. But he didn't like it. The outsider brought an element of unpredictability to any situation.
And he did not like her. Privately he called her Mrs. Cleaver because she looked like Barbara Billingsley, the Beaver's mother in the TV show. A model 1950s housewife.
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Safe. Stable. Compliant.
Except this Mrs. Cleaver turned out to be not so black-and-white. She seemed to have swallowed Bette "Fuck 'Em If They Can't Take a Joke" Midler. And while he quite liked the Divine Miss M, he thought perhaps not as the Secretary of State's counselor.
Though Charles Boynton had to admit that what Betsy said was true. Douglas Williams had no love for his Secretary of State. And to say it was mutual was an understatement.
It had come as a huge shock when the newly elected President had chosen a political foe, a woman who'd used her vast resources to support his rival for the party nomination, for such a powerful and prestigious position.
It was an even greater shock when Ellen Adams had turned her media empire over to her grown daughter and accepted the post.
The news was gobbled up by politicos, pundits, colleagues, and spit out as gossip. It fed and filled political talk shows for weeks.
The appointment of Ellen Adams was fodder at DC dinner parties. It was all anyone at Off the Record, the basement bar of the Hay-Adams, could talk about.
Why did she accept?
Though by far the greater, more interesting question was why had then President-Elect Williams offered his most vocal, most vicious adversary a place in his cabinet? And State, of all things?
The prevailing theory was that Douglas Williams was either following Abraham Lincoln and assembling a Team of Rivals. Or, more likely, he was following Sun Tzu, the ancient military strategist, and was keeping his friends close but his enemies closer.
Though, as it turned out, both theories were wrong.
For his part Charles Boynton, Charles to his friends, cared about his boss only to the extent that Ellen Adams's failures reflected badly on him, and he was damned if he'd be clinging to her coattails as she went down.
And after this trip to South Korea, her fortunes, and his, had taken a sharp turn south. And now they were holding up the entire fucking not–State of the Goddamned Union.
"Come on, come on. Hurry."
"Enough." Ellen skidded to a stop. "I won't be bullied and herded. If I have to go like this, so be it."
"You can't," said Boynton, his eyes wide with panic. "You look—"
"Yes, you've already said." She turned to her friend. "Betsy?"
There was a pause during which all they could hear was Boynton snorting his displeasure.
"You look fine," Betsy said quietly. "Maybe some lipstick." She handed Ellen a tube from her own purse along with a hairbrush and compact.
"Come on, come on," Boynton practically squeaked.
Holding Ellen's bloodshot eyes, Betsy whispered, "An oxymoron walked into a bar . . ."
Ellen thought, then smiled. "And the silence was deafening."
Betsy beamed. "Perfect."
She watched as her friend took a deep breath, handed her big travel bag to her assistant, and turned to Boynton.
While she appeared composed, Secretary Adams's heart was pounding as she walked in stocking feet, a filthy shoe dangling from each hand, back down Mahogany Row to the elevator. And the descent.
From State of Terror, by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny. Copyright (c) 2021 by the authors and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Press and Simon & Schuster.