Risk has an impressive hook for readers who
prefer their thrillers to be quick, intense and
above all realistic: it was written by Stella Rimington,
who joined Britain’s Secret Service (MI5)
in 1969 and served as its director general from
1992 to 1996. In her MI5 career, she worked in counter-subversion,
counter-espionage and counter-terrorism. It’s
hard to imagine a writer better prepared to produce
an MI5 thriller that rings of authenticity.
turns out to be a pretty good writer, too. She’s
alert to setting and character details, her dialogue
is fairly strong (if a little staged in its comic
touches), her plot is compelling, and she keeps
the pace up. That’s most of the battle for
a thriller, isn’t it?
Perhaps more importantly,
though, Rimington has created a protagonist who
is engaging enough to make a strong reading companion.
Liz Carlyle is
a 37-year-old intelligence officer notable both
for her strong work ethic and her admirable tendency
to tweak the bland and the boorish. (She gets a
subtle thrill from wearing slightly risqué
clothes in a workplace filled with relatively drab
co-workers, for instance.) She doesn’t approach
her job the way her superiors might always like,
and she certainly doesn’t pursue the life
her mother would wish for her, either. (She’s
secretly having an affair with a married man, and
there’s no prospect for a sheltered life in
the suburbs anytime soon.)
happy with her situation, though, and she’s
mulling some life changes when a potentially catastrophic
situation begins to form. Signals from abroad suggest
that an Islamic terrorist organization is about
stage an attack, somewhere in England. The fact
that an ‘invisible’ — “CIA-speak
for the ultimate nightmare: the terrorist who, because
he or she is an ethnic native if the target country,
can cross its borders unchecked, move around the
country unquestioned, and infiltrate its institutions
with ease” — may be utilized in the
attack makes the investigation especially difficult.
appear. A fake British driver’s license purchased
in Germany in the name of a known associate of terrorists
seems connected to the tip that a person of interest
may have been smuggled into the country from Germany.
But is that person the invisible or merely an accomplice?
And where will they strike?
It’s a jigsaw
puzzle of a plot, with Rimington offering pieces
one by one right up to the book’s last pages.
Only rarely do we get ahead of her in the guessing
game. Like many Hitchcock films, this is a thriller
about ‘where’ and ‘what’
far more than it is ‘who’ (or even ‘when’),
and Rimington keeps us gloriously in the dark, even
though we know it must end with MI5 on top.
is a strong debut that, with its insider’s
look at the office politics (and gender wars) inside
MI5, offers a little more than the standard thriller
typically offers. Hopefully, Rimington will produce
a second thriller with Liz as its center —
she is certainly interesting enough to carry a series.