Ex-spooks with a modicum of writing ability sometimes turn to writing spy thrillers once they’ve left the world of espionage. Rarely, though, do we see fictional treatments of the game come from anyone who retired at the very top of the game. Dame Stella Rimington is one of what must be only a handful of examples. She retired in 1996 as Director General of MI5, Britain’s counter-intelligence service, the only woman ever to have served in the post. Her first novel, At Risk, appeared in 2004, introducing her alter ego, MI5 officer Liz Carlyle. That first book has been followed to date by nine others, one every year or two. It turns out that not only does Rimington know how the counterespionage business works, she’s able to describe it with great skill — and create a great deal of suspense in the process. At Risk is an espionage thriller that fulfills its promise.
At Risk (Liz Carlyle #1) by Stella Rimington @@@@@ (5 out of 5)
Liz Carlyle, now 34 years of age, is a ten-year veteran of MI5. She is in a relationship with a married man whom she’s on the verge of dumping, as she has so many of his predecessors. Her mother wants her to move home and find a marriageable man, settle down, and give her grandchildren. Predictably, Liz has no intention of complying.
An espionage thriller grounded in decades of experience
At MI5, Carlyle “runs agents” and serves on the Joint Counter-Terrorist group along with representatives of MI6, the police Special Branch, GCHQ (Britain’s NSA), and, sometimes, the Home Office and the Foreign Office. At a meeting of this inter-agency group, MI6 discloses that a terrorist is about to enter the country — an “invisible” capable of blending perfectly into English society. The terrorist’s identity, and his or her intentions, are unknown.
No sooner has Liz begun work on the case than she hears disturbing news from an informant who had reported to her when she was involved in investigating organized crime. Apparently, a crime boss engaged in smuggling drugs and illegal immigrants into the country is expecting a very big shipment; the boss is nervous, and the informant is terrified. Is there a connection to the terrorist on the way? This being fiction, we surmise that that is the case. But how the connection is revealed is fascinating.
At Risk is a superior example of espionage fiction. It’s tense almost from the very beginning, the suspense builds steadily throughout, and the ending is shocking in more ways than one. Highly recommended.
For additional reading
This book is featured on my post, Dame Stella Rimington’s Liz Carlyle series of top-notch espionage novels.
My review of the second novel in the Liz Carlyle series, Secret Asset, is here: An engrossing novel about British counter-espionage. The third, Illegal Action, is at An engaging spy novel from former MI5 director Stella Rimington.
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