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on 10 June 2005
Publisher: Arrow Books (2004), ISBN: 0099461390
At Risk is the debut spy thriller written by the former head of Security Service (aka MI 5), Stella Rimington. The author was the first woman to head MI 5, and the heroine of her story still comes up against some of the prejudices that continue to afflict women in traditional male bastions. Not that she is particularly bothered about this - she can afford to, she made it to the top after all - and nor is her heroine, Liz Carlyle.
Carlyle is a veteran with 10 years of service spent on the Organised Crime and Counter Terrorist desks. Her boss, the rather mercurial Charles Wetherby who's still in love with a wife afflicted by some sort of degenerative disease, has quiet confidence in Liz's abilities to tie loose threads of information together into a solid piece of analysis.
That first piece of information comes from Germany where a fake UK driving licence is ordered in the name of Faraj Mansoor, the homonym of a man known to Pakistan security services as a terrorist. Another thread is the chatter of terrorists who are eagerly expecting an "invisible" to come into the UK, a terrorist with the nationality and appearance of a national of the country in which he, or she, operates.
The story develops in a style reminiscent of Dan Brown's writing (The Da Vinci Code), a series of seemingly uncorrelated scenes which gradually morph into a full picture - I guess just like intelligence work. The plot does not let go of you and the author's tradecraft has undoubtedly instilled the story with a sense of verisimilitude. The dénouement is, however, a bit of a letdown - it is just a bit too soppy albeit not soppy enough to feel disappointed about having read the book in the first place.
The story also fails to fully develop Liz Carlyle's emotional past illustrated by her seemingly tumultuous love life (what happens to her lover boy in the end?). We do know, though, that Liz is a dedicated career girl who puts her personal life on the backburner - a reference to the author's chest thumping in her autobiography (Open Secret). Perhaps, Carlyle will be more revealed in the books to come just like Ian Fleming's Bond took several books to reveal us his character.
I did like the innuendos in the passing and not always flattering references to the harmonious co-operation between security services (e.g. MI 6, SAS, corrupt Special Branch officers, lazy officers on the beat), the new MI 5 recruitment procedures, and the brouhaha surrounding ex-agents writing books.
All in all, this reader/reviewer will buy the author's next release just as he read her autobiography. Stella Rimington has developed a writing style which is entirely her own and may disappoint those expecting to read a new George Smiley story by Le Carré. It is not, but it is very good nevertheless deserving a 3-star rating.
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on 23 October 2005
I really enjoyed this book. I was a little suspicious seeing the "From the former head of MI5" written on the cover. These marketing ploys by publishers get worse and worse lately. So, I picked it up with some reservations. But, I was not at all dissapointed. The story is wonderfully crafted. A whole lot of apparently unrelated bits and pieces of information get pulled togther, and this story was wonderfully realistic. One wonders if it perhaps comes from some MI5 files that the public will, of course, never get to hear about!!
AT RISK opens with an introduction to Liz Carlyle, the key character in the novel, currently an agent-runner with the counter-terrorism unit of MI5. Liz, while bumping heads with colleagues thanks to the usual inter-offfice, and indeed, intra-office politics in a male-dominated workplace, is also confidently supported by Charles Wetherby, her superior at MI5. We then witness the entrance into the UK of an "invisible", a terrorist and/or terrorist aid who can pass off for a local, and this invisible facilitates the entry into the UK of an arab terrorist. The plot takes off from there, and any further information would be a plot spoiler! It is certainly a fascinating and exciting story. And, with so much coverage of terrorism in the popular fiction today, this was a refreshingly original piece of story-telling (listen up, Vince Flynn!).
One cannot help but wonder how much the key character, Liz Carlyle, is actually Stella Rimmington. Carlyle's character is extremely well developed, and we get to learn a lot about her. In fact, all of the characters in the novel felt very real to me. I wholeheartedly recommend it!
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on 12 July 2006
In line with other readers I found this very disappointing. It seems hurried. Rushed out to make a bit more money. Preying on the gullibility of fans. Don't waste your money!
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on 23 June 2006
Having been an avid reader of Cornwell's books I looked forward to the latest one. It is a very poor story and not value for money. Under 200 pages of double spaced script which could be condensed to 100 pages - a new author wouldn't get past thne first post with this.
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on 29 April 2007
How can someone who wrote such fantastic gripping books like Body Farm, Potters Field, Cause of Death, Body of Evidence etc turn out such total rubbish? Sad to say that even Kay Scarpetta books have been going downhill slowly too. And this from a great fan of hers. We both felt we "knew" KaY, Lucy and Marinno, the way she wrote about them, fully describing everything about them, reading those books, you lived with them virtually!!! Bit I'm sorry to say I only forced myself to finish this book off so I could say I had given it a chance. I was really looking forward to it coming out.

Please someone somewhere let Patricia C. know what she is doing to her reputation and bring back Scarpetta...the old Scarpeta not the new style of writing either!!!! The latest Scarpetta books have made her sound cold.

This review hasnt even really touched on At Risk. The reason ? I have nothing to say except to agree with the other reviewer if you must read it, get it from the library. Don't waste your money.

I won't even sell it on Amazon.
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on 30 March 2007
I have loved Patricia Cornwell books from the very start, but they have deteriorated over the past few years (with the exception of Trace which was excellent, much more like the old Cornwell) - but this is in a class of it's own (hopefully). It is absolutely horrendous. The characters are unlikable and annoying, so frankly you don't really care what happens to them. The one good thing I can say about this book is that it is short so the torture of reading it doesn't last too long.
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on 20 October 2007
The book begins with a beguiling opening sentence, but I soon lost interest in the story. The unsympathetic characters soon gave way to stereotype. Nearly everyone is a hard-bitten, career-focused meglamaniac. None more so than the female police protagonist, who gets raped then pulls herself together remarkably quickly and gives a cohorent press conference within a few hours vowing to champion good against evil with her new crime fighting unit. How many rape victims manage to do this in real life? Not many, I bet. Ms Cornwell needs to do a reality-check and speak to some traumatised rape victims then she would have a clearer idea what she is writing about. Needless to say, the author lost me at this point, and the only character I found at all engaging was the grandmother. I found it impossible to relate to the other characters and the short length of this book made for a skimpy read. People read fiction because they want to relate to characters who have strengths and frailties. Ms Cornwell's characters are completely devoid of the latter.
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on 19 July 2007
I waited until I could buy the book when the price was reduced as I had read the reveiws on Amazon and didnt want to waste my money. I really wish I had kept my £3.73. I could not even get halfway through. I would read a paragraph and sit back and ask, "who the heck wrote this drivel???" The grammer is so appalling I felt like getting out a red pen and correcting it, like a teacher. Whoever has stolen Patricia Cornwell, please give her back! I gave 1 star as there is no catagory for NO stars.
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on 14 April 2007
I am a fan of Patricia Cornwell who, until now, has never been disappointed. I had to force myself to finish reading this nonsense. Even at half the retail price, this book of less than half the usual amount of pages and approx twice the font size was a rip off.
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on 5 July 2006
Being an avid fan of Patricia Cornwell and her style I started to read her newest book "At Risk" last week. Having read two chapters I find I can't be bothered to pick it up and read any more. The characters are flat and uninteresting, and the story line fails to grip unlike the Scarpetta stories,(although the last few offerings of these are not a patch on the earlier ones). Think I'll stick to Kathy Reichs in future if I want a good patholgy story!
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