15 February 2010

Review: SECRET ASSET, Stella Rimington

Random House Australia, Hutchinson, Sep 2006
This is another of those reviews that was originally posted elsewhere, and has been waiting its turn to be re-posted here. I wrote the original review back in 2006, and have been aiming to read some more  Rimington ever since.

So it becomes this week's contribution to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme for the letter R.

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

Stella Rimington's Liz Carlyle series (courtesy Fantastic Fiction)
Liz Carlyle
1. At Risk (2004)
2. Secret Asset (2005)
3. Illegal Action (2007)
4. Dead Line (2008)
5. Present Danger (2009)


Bernadette said...

I have read one of Rimmington's books and I think it's this one but I can't recall much about it - I agree it seems like it should have more juicy details than it does. I heard her interviewed not long ago and she was very interesting and personable and I did think 'oh I must read another of hers' but I haven't got around to it yet.

Anonymous said...

Kerrie - Thanks for this review. I know what you mean about books where the killer's identified a little too early in the book. It takes another plot twist or something equally attention-getting to keep readers turning pages after that. Liz Carlyle sounds like an interesting character, though...


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