55 pages 1 hour read

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Louise Penny

State of Terror

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2021

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Summary and Study Guide


State of Terror is a 2021 political thriller written by mystery novelist Louise Penny and former United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The novel follows a recently appointed secretary of state as she tries to prevent a terrorist attack. The book incorporates many experiences and details from Clinton’s political career, while also referencing contemporary political events.

Plot Summary

Ellen Adams is the former head of a global media company who has recently been appointed as secretary of state by the newly elected President Williams. They have been enemies for many years, so her appointment was a surprise. As the new administration seeks to repair the damage caused by the previous President, Eric Dunn, Ellen returns from a catastrophic trip to Korea with her friend and counselor Betsy Jameson and her Chief of Staff Charles Boynton. Amid the fallout of the trip, Ellen suspects that President Williams has set her up to fail.

Meanwhile, a group of Pakistani nuclear scientists travel to Europe where they are killed by bus bombings in London and Paris. A low-level State Department employee named Anahita Dahir receives a strange message but dismisses it as spam. She makes a copy of the message, believing that it might be written by her friend and former lover Gil Bahar. Gil is Ellen’s estranged son who was once kidnapped by a Middle Eastern terrorist organization while working as a journalist.

Ellen deals with the aftermath of the bomb attacks in Paris and London. Anahita decodes the cryptic message and realizes that another bus is about to be attacked. She gets her message to Ellen, who realizes that Gil is on the bus. She warns Gil, who tries and fails to prevent the attack. Unsure who she can trust, Ellen flies to Germany and takes Anahita and her daughter Katherine with her.

In Germany, Ellen investigates the bomb attack. The intelligence networks scramble to find out more. Ellen asks Gil for information about his source, but he refuses to break his journalist ethics. Ellen wonders whether Bashir Shah, a nuclear physicist and arms dealer, may be involved. Ellen once produced a documentary about Bashir Shah which made him so angry that he kidnapped and nearly killed Gil. To this day, Ellen suspects that Shah may have killed her husband and is still taunting her from afar.

According to General Whitehead, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Shah was unexpectedly released from house arrest in Pakistan during the previous administration. Ellen begins to suspect that Tim Beecham, the Director of National Intelligence may be a traitor. She is not sure who she can trust in the White House. Betsy returns to America to research Beecham while Ellen plans to fly to the Middle East. Before she leaves, Anahita admits that her father is Iranian. Anahita is told that the cryptic message was deliberately sent to her from Iran by her cousin, the daughter of a loyal nuclear physicist. In America, Betsy’s research into Beecham is interrupted by the president’s chief of staff, Barb Stenhauser. Betsy suspects someone is following her and recruits General Whitehead to help her. He informs her that a group of extreme right-wing ideologues in the United States may be working in secret with the terrorists and the Russians.

Ellen flies to Iran to meet with the president. Betsy tracks down former President Dunn’s disgraced press secretary, Pete Hamilton. She asks Hamilton to search for information about Tim Beecham, but Hamilton discovers that Beecham’s files have been hidden. Gil leaves the hospital and travels to Pakistan to meet his source. Hamilton finds Beecham’s files which implicate General Whitehead. Ellen meets the Supreme Leader of Iran. He seems cooperative but offers Ellen a cryptic message and then takes Anahita into custody. Ellen believes that he is playing a complex game. She leaves Iran, asking Katherine and Boynton to stay behind and receive any information the Iranians give them.

Boynton and Katherine are led to a secret cave, where they are reunited with Anahita and her cousin, Zahara. They are chased from the cave by Russian gangsters. Gradually, Ellen learns that Shah has a secret nuclear weapons facility on the Pakistan-Afghan border. His materials are supplied by the Russian mafia, and he has already made three nuclear bombs, which are in the hands of terrorists who have shipped them to the United States. The terrorists are working with a conspiracy within the United States government named High Level Informant. When Betsy accused Whitehead of being involved, he is arrested.

Ellen blackmails the Russian president into telling her Shah’s location. He reveals that Shah is currently at the home of former President Dunn. Ellen returns to the United States while a Special Forces team kidnap Shah. President Williams and General Whitehead hatch a plot to expose the conspiracy. Shah is interrogated in the Oval Office, but he refuses to give up the location of the bombs. Whitehead and the president work together to reveal that Tim Beecham and Barb Stenhauser are co-conspirators. Ellen gains entry to the High-Level Informant website. The bombs are found and defused.