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An insider writes her debut spy thriller � a worthwhile read
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.