Stella Rimington






Random House Australia, Hutchinson, Sep 2006
Reviewed by Kerrie Smith

On his death-bed Irish Nationalist Sean Keaney asks to see James Maguire, one of his former comrades. He tells Maguire that some years before the IRA planted a mole into one of the British security services. The mole, never activated, is now likely to be the equivalent of a 'loose cannon'. Maguire agrees to pass the information on to MI5 and MI6.

If Keaney's story is true, then the potential for damage is immense. MI5 Intelligence officer Liz Carlyle is taken from her current case, an investigation into a possible Islamic terrorist group in London, and re-assigned. Her task is to locate the mole from the meagre clues that Keaney, now dead, gave to Maguire. In a meeting Liz has with Maguire he poses a question which must be very relevant to British security: which has higher priority, IRA related activities or possible Islamic terrorism? Maguire says that the world has moved on, that IRA aggression is history. Liz says that it is 'unfinished business', a file that needs to be closed. As the story develops, the need to find the mole becomes more pressing. Liz Carlyle's search for him results in the death of an Oxford don, and an inevitable threat to Liz's own safety.

Author Stella Rimington has created a number of interesting characters in this, the second Liz Carlyle novel. Liz herself is thorough, level-headed and intuitive; Charles Wetherby, Director of Counter Terrorism, is supportive, determined and always unflustered; Peggy Kingsolver is a researcher able to distil information from seemingly meaningless facts. These are just some of the characters who come to life in this entertaining, well-crafted, and believable story.

I didn't feel that I learned anything earth shattering about espionage from SECRET ASSET. Stella Rimington, former head of MI5, hasn't given away any trade secrets. I am not sure whether I understand the workings of the British secret service any better than I did. If anything, it was little too predictable that there would be connections between the search for the mole and the earlier investigation that Liz was involved in. The identity of the mole is revealed almost 100 pages before the end, and then the focus moves to what the mole will do to bring MI5 down. Perhaps Rimington could have left us in ignorance a little longer.

I get the feeling that Rimington has many more tales to tell and I look forward to meeting Liz Carlyle again. I certainly will look for the first in the series, AT RISK.

October 2006 review originally posted on Murder and Mayhem


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