State of Terror
Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny
Macmillan, £20, pp512
I didn’t expect, when picking up Hillary Rodham Clinton’s debut, State of Terror, for it to be the sort of thriller that I’d simultaneously want to read slowly, soaking in the delicious details of how high-level politicians really act around one another (there’s an awful lot more swearing), and horribly fast, panicked at the dreadful events piling up ahead. But I should have: Clinton’s co-writer is the hugely classy Canadian crime writer Louise Penny and this appears to be a match made in heaven. Ellen Adams is secretary of state for a new administration, which has just been sworn in after the “near-criminal incompetence” of its predecessor. “The former administration screwed up everything it touched. It poisoned the well, poisoned our relationships. We’re the leader of the free world in name only.” She’s in her late 50s, the former boss of a media empire, and she thinks she has a little time to learn on the job until bombs start going off in the major European cities and there’s no information about who’s responsible. This is meticulously plotted, intelligent and terrifying, a portrait of a world facing terrible threats, where “accomplished middle-aged women were often diminished by small men”, female friendship is key and where we are given delightful titbits from America’s former secretary of state such as this one, on the British prime minister: “A hollow man, an upper-class twit, with any guts he might have had replaced by entitlement and random Latin phrases.” Don’t miss it.
The Missing Hours
Faber, £12.99, pp288
Claudia Castro is a rich, beautiful and privileged social media queen at NYU, but when Julia Dahl’s The Missing Hours opens, she’s waking up in pain, her underwear gone, her skirt smelling of urine and her face beaten. Claudia doesn’t remember what happened to her and she doesn’t want to talk to anybody: not her sister, who is about to have a baby, not her music producer father, not a counsellor. “Did you hear Claudia Castro says somebody raped her?” she imagines them gossiping. “One of those disgusting reality TV blogs… would probably pay ten grand for that headline.” So she says nothing, waits, heals. As New York is stalked by an attacker who is slashing their victims with a knife, “over and over Claudia read the word, heard the word: victim. The victim’s mother says her life will never be the same. The victim’s husband says her children are afraid. The victim the victim the victim. The word had spikes.” Then a phone video emerges of Claudia’s attack and she slowly sinks out of sight, determined that she isn’t going to be another victim. This is a dark, gripping study of vengeance and of what it means to live in a woman’s body.
The Apollo Murders
Quercus, £20, pp470
Astronaut Chris Hadfield is known for his bestselling nonfiction as well as his time as commander of the International Space Station. The Apollo Murders is his first venture into fiction and it is set around the launch and flight of Apollo 18 in 1973, in reality cancelled by President Nixon, but here setting out for the moon, by way of a Russian space station that the Americans believe is conducting military espionage. “For the first time in history the United States is going to take hostile military action in space.” Our hero is Nasa flight controller Kazimieras “Kaz” Zemeckis, a former pilotwho lost his eye flying an F-4 Phantom, while it’s soon clear that many of those on this mission have agendas of their own. The plot hangs together well, although why does Kaz not know the moon is tidally locked to the Earth? Even I know that. But the real and genuine joy of The Apollo Murders is the insight Hadfield gives into life as an astronaut, the moments as launch approaches: “Still three miles away, yet clearly visible high above the flood plain, the Saturn V rocket was like some ancient Egyptian monument to the gods… gleaming white in the morning sunshine.” The Gs as the rocket takes off. The wonders of space.
Mantle, £16.99, pp304
All hail the final novel from the brilliant Andrea Camilleri, the late Italian author who gave us the inimitable Sicilian detective Inspector Montalbano. Camilleri actually wrote Riccardino in 2004 and 2005, updating it in 2016, but gave orders for it not to be published until after his death. He died in Rome in 2019, aged 93, and here it is, a whimsical and wonderful conclusion to Montalbano’s story.
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli, Riccardino opens as the detective receives a phone call from a wrong number: it’s a man called Riccardino and Montalbano soon sends him on his way. Shortly afterwards, he learns that Riccardino has been murdered and starts investigating. But “some years back [Montalbano] had the brilliant idea to tell a local writer the story of a case he’d conducted, and the guy had immediately spun it into a novel”; this author now tells the detective he’s going about solving the crime all wrong, saying: “You keep invoking the problem of imminent old age, but I know perfectly well that it’s just an excuse for covering your increasing indecision.”
Though Riccardino gets increasingly meta, in the end it is a moving finale to this peerless series.