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A terrorist is targeting Britain. And to make matters worse it’s an “invisible”--someone traveling under a British passport. Virtually impossible to find before it’s too late.The job falls to Liz Carlyle, the most resourceful counter terror agent in British intelligence. Tracking down this invisible is a challenge like none she has faced before. It will require all her hard-won experience, to say nothing of her intelligence and courage. Drawing on her own years as Britain's highest-ranking spy, Stella Rimington gives us a story that is smart, tautly drawn, and suspenseful from first to last.

367 pages, Hardcover

First published July 1, 2004

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About the author

Stella Rimington

31 books406 followers
Dame Stella Whitehouse Rimington joined the Security Service (MI5) in 1968. During her career she worked in all the main fields of the Service: counter-subversion, counter-espionage and counter-terrorism. She was appointed Director General in 1992, the first woman to hold the post. She has written her autobiography and nine Liz Carlyle novels. She lives in London and Norfolk.

Watch a video of Stella Rimington discussing her influences and career in MI5.

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5 stars
1,738 (30%)
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3 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 429 reviews
Profile Image for Mal Warwick.
Author 30 books415 followers
April 6, 2017
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.

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.

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.
Profile Image for Sara.
78 reviews12 followers
June 16, 2009
If you enjoy spy intrigue stories you will love this book. The plot is captivating and of course extremely realistic considering the author's previous career with MI5. My only complaint was that I needed a "British-English / American-English" dictionary to help me with a lot of the lingo. Also, there are some assumptions made by the author with regards to British culture that not all her non-British readers will be familiar with.
Profile Image for An EyeYii.
3,562 reviews61 followers
February 13, 2015
"In any campaign, the first stronghold that you have to occupy is your enemy's consciousness" - Feliks Dzerzhinsky KGB founder p 424.

"They make a wilderness, and call it peace" - Tacitus, Roman Empire p 554.

Quotations show the breadth of heroine Liz (and author Stella's) education.

I may continue series, but I more admire than like: heroine Liz, her deceptive frightening world, traitors - novice Jean or jaded Mansoor. The Western good guys stumble always a footstep behind the Islamic terrorists, in slow reveal. Clues dribble tediously, sought, (mis)interpreted. The suspense builds fact by fact.

Author, retired MI6 director, knew her job, and tells us expertly, teasingly, so 5* for series debut, started after actress mentioned on extras for http://aneyespy.blogspot.ca/2012/06/s... Anecdotes have ring of truth, like "well-heeled public schoolboys snorting lemon sherbet" from sweets to drug high p266. Denzil refuses drink because driving - "straight to the pub" p525.

Minor characters, no matter their values, have ring of reality, in names and descriptions: flashy Eastman, pretentious Peregrine, busty Cherisse. Conversations, events have hint of truth, sometimes irrelevant, disjoint comic relief, better edited out.

Liz laughs at idea of fifty rubber Santa masks p42. Suggestion of possible enemy disguise distracts from plot direction. So does romance side-plot -- neglected flat, personal life. Married boyfriend Mark phones, he has confessed to wife and left; she is rude, selfish, spares no minute to let him know he's history; nagging need keeps bobbing up, positive persistence negative side.

Work is excuse for dropped relationships. McKay says "I love it when you talk dirty" disrespectfully in front of professional peers for "joke"; she drives hard off the road, slamming brakes in return p319.

MI5 (British Military Intelligence internal) terrorist analyst Liz Carlyle 32 is softly-dressed but tough-spoken to everyone. MI6 Bruno Mackay also 32 has good looks "far too emphatic" p15. ("her opposite number" p70, he is not like Jacob Hay's from Ellery Queen's "Eyes of Mystery" http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... ) His superior Geoffrey Fane is ongoing enemy in series. Her former source Zander bypasses his official Special Branch handler Morrison.

British society classes block help between levels: upper-crust Etonian MI6 (international division), career Army, or cop on the daily beat. Lakeby avoids "using the men's names - a subtle but unmistakable putting of them into their place p177. Sticky spiderwebs entangle, hinder solution.

Liz can use deliberate bureaucratic bumbling. If nit-picking bully "jobsworth" Morrison buries valuable data, she has "more pieces of the jigsaw than anyone else. Which was how she liked it" p126.

Adulterous sergeants Mudie and Clissold snog rather than search thoroughly p367. Throughout series, Liz only trusts chivalrous superior Wetherby, whose wife is chronically ill; reader sees Liz has crush on him; blossoms later bear fruit.

The infiltrator is feared because "invisible", CIA for "native of target country" p17. At first Jean D'Aubigny, surname French, speech "posh English", slips notice.

Rimington flows, usually easily, in current of time, varies viewpoints, invents believable histories. Islam fills a typical "desperately lonely" p136 teen need to belong. Aliases, such as name on license Lucy p231, kept straight by author expertise. "Collateral Damage" (Schwarzenegger's film does theme better, equivocates black and white, good and bad) accidentally bombs Mansoor's family wedding p470. Disaster is set in train.

Likewise, a tiny trait, a greedy fisherman Gunter, starts the downfall of the Muslim plan. Liz recognizes the specialist silent armor-piercing bullet p208; trivia transforms into key. Camp instructor recited "To kill an enemy of Islam is to be reborn" p403, but laughs, because new existence is "reborn dead .. changed everything .. she felt nothing" p538.

"They're looking for us, I can feel it" p234. "I can feel her shadow" p467. Reality is spoiled by dreams, psychic supernatural trash.

Viewpoint from Denzil on school holiday, keeps crossing paths with the terrorist couple, confusing until the end.

Acronyms are thankfully minimal: ITS is Islamic Terrorist Syndicate p16, COBRA is Whitehall Cabinet Office Briefing Room p395.
A leather jacket in Canada costs more than cloth, so "cheap-looking and unfashionable" p278 strikes an off note.

Like Agatha Christie uses italics, Rimington uses bold letters for emphasis. Factory assembly line romance style founder Barbara Cartland was over-fond of exclamation marks. Is this a British speech pattern "thing", like Hollywood air quotes?
Profile Image for Mark Young.
Author 5 books41 followers
March 27, 2011
Stella Rimington really grabs the reader from the very beginning. Characters and plot are intertwined like strands of string in a cord, each heading toward a final event that has anti-terrorist agents worried. Along the way, we grown closer to intelligence officer Liz Caryle, who has spent a lifetime trying to prove herself in a very dangerous, male-oriented environment.

Liz and her counter-terrorist teammates must learn whether the opposition has finally been able to land an foreign agent on UK soil to commit an horrendous act with the help of a "invisible." An invisible, explains the book cover, "is CIA-speak for the ultimate intelligence nightmare: a terrorist who is an ethnic native of the target country and who can therefore cross its borders unchecked, moves around the country unquestioned, and go unnoticed while settng up the foundation for monstrous harm."

This is the backdrop of At Risk. This novel is authored by novelist Stella Rimington, after she retired from Britain's Security Service (MI5) as director general after thirty-five years of service, which included responsilibiies of investigationing counter-subversion, counter-espionage, and counter-terrorism. In short, Rimington writes from her own experiences working in that gray netherworld that is seldom touched by daylight. A well-written, well-crafted novel. I would highly recommend it to those who enjoy this genre.
Profile Image for DebsD.
608 reviews
September 20, 2019
With excellent writing, perfect plotting and several twists, this has a feeling of authenticity - as it should, given the author's background. The only complaints I have about this are minor: there are a few threads of story which don't seem to go anywhere (I wonder if they come to something later in the series?) and the pacing is sometimes a little bit spotty (which I can forgive, this being a debut novel). A solid 4* from me; I'm looking forward to picking up the second in the series.
Profile Image for Rob Twinem.
854 reviews37 followers
December 15, 2022
An average thriller with somewhat shallow characters and a predictable outcome. Two invisibles have entered the UK, and they have a target in mind, destruction to be delivered in the form of a curde bomb. M15 Intelligence officer Liz Carlyle together with a motley crew of army officers and super smooth Bruno MaCay, Mi6's finest race against time to stop the predicted carnage. If you enjoy cheap thrills at the expense of character driven stories, then do read, however.....For those of you in the cheap seats I'd like ya to clap your hands to this one; the rest of you can just rattle your jewelry!'
A little irrelevant quote for you to enjoy (thank you JL :) which neatly closes a review lamenting the time I have wasted reading this indigestible fodder!
Profile Image for Andrew.
628 reviews4 followers
January 23, 2015
This is Stella Rimington's first book, in which she introduces the character of Liz Carlyle who is employed by M15 as an agent-runner.

This book seems quite topical at the time I write this. It is based around what is called 'an invisible' by the security services.

Much of the story takes place in the rural parts of East Anglia. I like the way the novel is crafted. It is written from two view-points: Firstly through the eyes if Liz and her MI5 and M16 colleagues. Secondly through the eyes of ?? And ?? who are the radical Islamic Fundamentalists who are in England to undertake a terrorist action.

There are some good sections of dialogue which make the characters come to life. This is a story which certainly has a lot of pace. The tension builds steadily and the conflicts between the different organisations; police, military and special services are brought out well. Will Liz Carlyle get her villain(s)? You will need to read it to find out.

I look forward to reading 'the Secret Asset' the second book in the series.
Profile Image for Stan Usher.
136 reviews
October 10, 2017
I like reading books, that are written by authors who have a knowledge of the subject matter, and this book has it in spades. Stella Rimington was the first female boss of MI5, and this first book in this series (I will be getting more!), is as relevant today as it was 13 years ago when it was written.

Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,855 followers
August 3, 2008
The adventures of Liz Carlyle, female MI5 officer, as conceived by former Director General of MI5, Stella Rimington? A no-brainer- this is utter, lose yourself in the adventure fun. Step aside, Jason Bourne, the lady has arrived!
Profile Image for Pamela.
1,355 reviews
December 7, 2017
Pacy espionage thriller, packed with lots of information about the nuts and bolts of investigative work - just as you would expect from a novel written by the former head of MI5. Liz Carlyle is assigned to a counter terrorist operation that involves an 'invisible' - a native of the target country who is hard to identify and locate. She has to analyse the intelligence reports and use all her skill and intuition to fill in the gaps in a seemingly impossible task, before a deadly attack takes place.

Very enjoyable, this novel is the kind of espionage story that focuses on the thrill of the chase rather than any labyrinthine double dealing in dark places. It has a genuine 'cat and mouse' feel, as the reader follows both the terrorists and their pursuers through a taut and exciting narrative. Liz is a likeable and feisty character, pragmatic and determined.

A series that is well worth following for anyone who enjoys entertaining but realistic modern espionage thrillers. Will definitely be reading more about Liz Carlyle in future.
420 reviews3 followers
September 3, 2021
Enjoyed this espionage novel. Liz Carlyle is an agent with MI5 working to thwart a possible terrorist attack in England. When a body shows up that has been killed with an armor-piercing bullet, MI5 is alerted that there might be someone in the country with the capability of mounting such an attack. They suspect the target may be some American military bases. Liz works with local police and her counterpart in MI6 while trying to get inside the head of the terrorist and a woman who he has recruited to help. The author formerly was director general of MI5, the first female to hold the post. I will seek out other books in this series.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
1,129 reviews12 followers
July 30, 2020
It was a pleasure to read this first novel in Stella Rimington's Liz Carlyle series. As the ex-Director of MI5, the writer certainly brings her considerable knowledge to bear on her subject of counter-terrorism. The writing is crisp, the plot well developed and the characters convincing. I've read a number of spy thrillers over the years, especially those set in the Soviet era. With terrorism now the major security threat to western countries, this series is timely. I've been meaning to read these books for some time; now I've started, I'm keen to continue.
Profile Image for Charlie  Ravioli.
174 reviews6 followers
May 5, 2020
My first book by Rimington but NOT my last!

I liked it. Good pace, well written, believable suspense. It's a mix between Ludlum and le Carre but without being too shadowy or high brow. I honestly can't remember if (or the last time) I read a spy/espionage/thriller like this where the protagonist was female. I thought Liz Carlyle was a great character.

I enjoyed it and as I say I'll definitely read another one with hopeful expectations.
Profile Image for Tory Wagner.
1,275 reviews
August 22, 2020
At Risk by Stella Remington draws from Remington's experience as the first female director general of M15. I usually associate M15 with the James Bond books and movies and I can imagine this book made into a James Bond type movie. The main character Liz Carlyle, an intelligence officer with M15, is engaging and there are numerous colorful scenes to engage the reader.
948 reviews6 followers
March 30, 2020
I found this one under Thrillers on the library's ebook page. I think it's more of a police procedural than a spy thriller. I am binge watching the BBC's DCI Banks and this book reminded me a bit of that show. A bit slow to start. Will put #2 on my TBR list.
123 reviews
April 16, 2022
I thoroughly enjoyed this book! Fast read for a thriller, kept me up one night to finish which rarely happens as sleep is everything.
65 reviews
July 6, 2023
Really liked this spy/crime thriller - the author was the head of MI5 (!). Entertaining story and characters.
Profile Image for Lysergius.
3,047 reviews
April 26, 2021
A good espionage thriller with a modern setting. The pace hots up and never relaxes and the ending is a beauty.
Profile Image for Jyoti Dahiya.
160 reviews10 followers
September 21, 2018
Stella Rimington's qualifications to tell this story are that she used to be M, the head of MI5. Okay, she was never called M, but the James Bond on-screen boss became a woman around the time Dame Stella became head of MI5 (I'm not 100% sure she is a Dame, but hey, artistic license, and you can google, too, if you try). So that means that you won't get any really stupid bloopers, the type that have real agents rolling on the floor, laughing their heads off.

There are different terrorists, here, they include a Pakistani-trained import into the UK, and a home grown 'invisible'. Clues creep in to indicate something big is going down. The forces of law and order get unexpected help from a greedy people-runner who thinks the new illegal immigrant can be easily robbed. His lesson otherwise lasts only a millisecond. Now the police are after our friend the terrorist. And the 'invisible' woman. And I always thought you couldn't have a truly silenced gun. Live and learn.

Of course that's not a spoiler! Bah, you can read the back cover.

Now, Liz Carlyle of MI5 and her surprisingly supportive boss (most such books have the protagonist trying to outsmart their boss as well) are trying to track down the villains. Yet the villains are smart, too. And committed. The 'invisible', who grew up a rebellious teen from a broken home, finds her true faith in Islam, converts, and then concludes the world is too bad and needs improvement. OK, she's a Pakistan-trained terrorist, too. (Oh, come on, less of the 'spoiler' howls, this is less than a quarter of the way through the book., and it's not like I told you her name and you went and checked her facebook profile. Sheesh). Step by step, all the people involved go down the paths of their own choices and the destinies they thereby choose.

Liz is 'assisted' by a flashy MI6 compatriot, Bruno Mackay, who fancies himself a romantic seducer, and completely rubs her the wrong way in many head-shaking ways.

And of course, as you might expect, they all conclude the terrorists will attack the wrong target. Last minute breakthroughs mean that England continues to be safe. Yay and all that.

This book is different from most thrillers. There's no shortage of the usual stuff: characterisation, building up motives, and the most obvious of villains (Islamic terrorists have completely supplanted communist Russians). Yet, the story has a steady, relentless pace--no terrific suspense scenes, just a systematic unfolding of the uncovering of the plot. It's not breathless, yet it's not leisurely. You feel for the characters, all of them, even the terrorists. Yet black is never whitened and white is not black. It's got several tropes in it, yet is more than the tropes.

Yes, it could happen this way. It may well have, in many ways. The novel has a real presence that most writers cannot manage. Maybe Frederick Forsyth, but maybe not even him.

I don't think S Rimington will write a whole lot of other novels. She's not a professional novelist, after all. And that's a real shame. I'd read more about Liz Carlyle any day. Or any other agent.

Read and enjoy!

At Risk lets you feel the mud and sea spray, and you know it could well happen this way in real life. You get not the whole persons, but the slice of their life when this event happened.

And the bad guys lose and all questions are answered. What more do you want?

[Reviewed in 2012 without checking Google, because, of course, it's part of a long series; uploaded here now]
Profile Image for Suzannah.
Author 31 books488 followers
November 1, 2021
I had the sudden urge to read a spy thriller recently, and opted for Stella Rimington because she was the head of MI5 in the 1990s. I inhaled this one in about two days flat and really enjoyed it, perhaps the more so as a palate cleanser after a rather lengthy fantasy series.

AT RISK is taut and pacy, but also a very very low-key, grounded counter-terrorism procedural which plays out fairly prosaically in Norfolk. In retrospect, it was not precisely the spy story I had in mind, which was more one of those globe-trotting cloak-and-dagger melodramas they make for the movies. However, Dame Stella won me over. She writes beautiful clear prose, accented with subtle but striking imagery. Similarly, the tone of the story is highly cerebral (our intrepid heroine is an MI5 analyst and agent-runner working off hunches and tiny clues; much of the story actually feels like a Dorothy Sayers mystery for this reason, with the difference that in a mystery you don't follow the baddies on their mission) but has just enough lightly-handled character beats that the story doesn't feel soulless.

Since the antagonists of this story are Muslim extremists plotting an act of terror, I was a little worried about how this element would be handled: I have good Muslim friends and don't like to see them slandered. In fact, in my limited perspective, I came away very impressed and encouraged by how this was handled:
- the point is made early on, very deftly, that there are Muslims who are peaceful and law-abiding, while right-wing extremists are also a significant terror threat;
- the Muslim characters are portrayed with what seems a bonafide attempt at empathy and understanding, they are complex people with long histories that have led them to this moment;
- the complicity of Western imperial aggression in provoking acts of terror and their ruthlessness in responding to such acts is very uncompromisingly portrayed.

In fact, the way in which the book showcases both the sympathetic motivations and the blood on the hands of both sides was one of the things I loved most about it: there are no black hats and white hats here.

On a less substantial level, I also really enjoyed the fun Rimington has pairing up her cerebral, play-by-the-book MI5 (domestic) heroine with an old-fashioned swashbuckling MI6 (international) operative. It isn't just a great buddy dynamic, it's also clearly giving Rimington a whole lot of fun making affectionate digs at a) her erstwhile colleages at MI6 and b) James Bond tropes. Neither of them quite trusts the other, both are keeping secrets, he flirts, she frosts up, I loved it. Sadly, it seems that the MI6 character doesn't show up in the majority of the sequels. Boo.

There were also things I didn't so much enjoy about the book, from the way the MI6 character's flirtation approaches sexual harassment (especially within the workplace setting), to the fact that nearly everyone in the story is committing adultery (even the protagonist). Thankfully, the author doesn't write sex scenes ("in thrillers, they distract from the plot" I read in one interview, which, THANK YOU, Dame Stella, someone had to say it!). Otherwise, I've rated the book for infrequent language.

Overall, a wonderfully deft and able counter-terrorism procedural with a cerebral plot, grounded in the author's extensive intelligence work, with fun characters, a core of deeper meaning, and undemanding literary prose. I enjoyed it hugely and will certainly be revisiting this series at some point.
Profile Image for Miles Nilsson.
Author 1 book2 followers
July 19, 2020
Always an intriguing admission by an author: that another person helped with the writing. One never knows entirely and exactly what that means. For what it is worth, in the case of the 2005 novel “At Risk,” the nominal author, Stella Rimington, was helped by Luke Jennings, author of the popular “Killing Eve” series.

Often, despite such a disclaimer, the nominal author does take some part in the writing and the plotting. “At Risk” is about a case handled by counterintelligence officer Liz Carlyle over the course of a few harrowing days. Rimington knows the world of counterintelligence inside out, having been a member of Britain’s MI5 for 27 years, ending her career there with four years as director general – as the head of this counterspy group. So I tend to believe her when she claims to have created the story told here.

A note to the uninitiated or just those who keep forgetting the difference between MI5 and MI6: Think of concentric rings laid over a map of the United Kingdom with a numeral “1” in the center of the Isle of Britain. Imagine the numerals going up to “5,” covering the English Channel and Northern Ireland. Now Imagine ring number “6” extending beyond the U.K.’s national boundaries and covering the rest of the world. That is the difference in jurisdiction between MI5 (close to home) and MI6 (everything outside of the U.K.).

There are, in practically every country, rivalries between intelligence agencies. Lawmakers and chief executives keep telling the agencies that they need to cooperate, but they continue to keep their own council anyway. (My impression is that Homeland Security, the agency created by law in the United States to coordinate between all the preexisting intelligence gathering agencies, backfired in that not only do agencies still keep intelligence from each other, but Homeland is one of the worst offenders as it lords it over and withholds from the other agencies instead of setting a collegial example of sharing.)

In the U.S., the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which was founded as an enforcer of federal law and policer of interstate crime, also has a counterintelligence division. This division is comparable to and a sort of counterpart of the UK’s MI5, while the Central Intelligence Agency is pretty much equivalent to the U.K.'s MI6. Other books I have read point to the parallels in relations between each country's domestic and foreign intelligence services, and one similarity is that they don’t trust each other. That is more or less what is going on in this novel, telegraphed early on during a meeting between MI5 and MI6 in which they share information, but there is, ever after, a sense that each might be holding some things back.

Aside: At the end of the novel, we learn that the same rivalry occurs in Pakistan where the Interior Ministry’s Intelligence Bureau does not get along with the Defense Ministry’s Inter-Services Intelligence group.

All of this bad faith between the right hand and the left within the same government, is backdrop to a case of what initially looks like international terrorism visited on Britain’s shores by two mysterious figures, a Englishwoman who enters the country from France and a Pakistani man who is smuggled into the country via a channel that was previously used to bring drugs from Germany to the eastern coast of England and is now being used to convey illegal immigrants, including prostitutes, laborers and, in this case, “specials” who pay premium dollar (I should say pound) for round-trip service.

Things rapidly go wrong when one of the smugglers on the British end decides to rob the special passenger of his heavy and presumably valuable knapsack (er, “rucksack” as the British prefer to say), but the Pakistani has a gun, and he uses it to blow the smuggler’s head off. This being England, the authorities take particular notice of murders committed with firearms. As Liz later notes, the terrorists’ operation was so carefully planned that it probably would have remained under the radar if only the smuggler had not been so greedy and his “special” passenger not so quick to kill him.

With a few short exceptions, the point of view goes back and forth between Liz’s viewpoint and that of “Lucy” (not her real name), the British confederate of the Pakistani man, Faraj. The two women are on opposite sides, one trying to arrest the other, the other trying to avoid being arrested before she and Faraj can complete their mission.

What is their mission? That seems to be for Faraj to know and for Liz to figure out. She and her colleagues collect information by the various means at their disposal, but they are constantly frustrated by how much they cannot detect, and it turns out in the end that there are crucial pieces they are not sharing with each other. (Local law enforcement also resents national law enforcement for not sharing everything in a timely manner – that turns out to be just as true in the U.K. as it is in the U.S.A.)

Faraj knows more than he is telling Lucy, too, but it turns out in the end that Lucy knows, all along, something about their target that she is not telling us. (Faraj must know it, too, so there is never any need to state it.) One false note is that Lucy tells Faraj that she knows that they are being pursued by a female officer, but she never reveals how she knows this. Are we to believe that it is woman’s intuition?

Speaking of what is known to the characters, phrases like “as you well know” turn up at least four times and possibly more. This is a timeworn way to introduce exposition to the reader even though the speaker knows very well that the other characters do not need the information explained to them. All writers should try to avoid this cliche.

But this is an entertaining and diverting read. There is excitement and intrigue – at least at intervals. The plot is more rewarding and the conclusion more satisfying than in some other stories I have encountered lately. Several of the characters are on their own journeys. They change, their relationships with others sometimes deepen, although the effect of the changes are not always beneficial or fully comprehensible (sometimes they are inconclusive and could be meant to be resolved in a sequel, which I gather may already have been published), but that does not mean that these changes are not evocative of human nature, which is a mystery that one cannot always fathom in life or in fiction. Is it consistent? That is the only expectation that must be met. Here it is consistent, more or less.

The language of “At Risk” is quite British. British English is famously different from its American counterpart. Spelling (“characterise” instead of the American spelling “characterize” and “tyres” instead of “tires”), alternative vocabulary (“knackered” for “worn out,” “windscreen” in place of our “windshield” and “tip” instead of “dump”), and often subtle but slightly jarring differences in grammar. For instance, British and American English favor different choices of verbal phrases and a different conjugation of verbs with collective nouns: “The organisation send” (British) instead of “The organization sends” (American). It is a matter of conceiving of the organization as a group of people (“they send”) versus the organization as a single entity or unit (“it sends”).

British English is fully on display throughout this novel, more so than usual, I feel. Start with the title, "At Risk," which is a more British way of saying "In Danger."

Or take a couple of sentences from the last two pages:
“Six [i.e., the spy agency MI6] spend rather less time talking to the Intelligence Bureau….” (Instead of "Six spends rather less time....")
“Much better to keep stumm….” ("Stumm" is similar in meaning to "mum" as in “mums the word.”)

I made the mistake of not keeping my “British English Dictionary” close at hand as I read, so I had to guess at what some words meant or else skip them.
Profile Image for Susan.
397 reviews94 followers
August 21, 2009
I’ve been on a spy kick lately, rereading books by old favorites John Le Carré and Charles McCarry and watching the British TV series, Sandbaggers, which, it turns out, has a sort of cult following among intelligence buffs—supposed to be pretty authentic. Most of those books I’ve been rereading as well as Sandbaggers focus on Cold War espionage. This novel focuses on contemporary terrorism and its author, Stella Rimington, is a past director of Britain’s MI5.

It’s like a police procedural, where the good guys are chasing some baddies whom they can’t identify and know very little about. Each chapter presents bits and pieces of the story, not only from the authorities’ point of view but from that of the bad guys and of others tangentially involved in the action.

The heroine, LizCarlyle, is an MI5 officer on a counterintelligence taskforce that includes Special Branch and MI6 as well as local police. MI6 has reported the name of a possibly dangerous terrorist who’s disappeared from his job near Peshawar, Pakhistan, and is known to have obtained an illegal British driving license. The plot is complicated throughout by a Special Branch officer who may be in the pay of a gang of organized crime, known to be smuggling cigarettes and drugs and possibly to have moved into the people smuggling trade, and by the rivalry and one-upmanship between MI5 and MI6.

The action takes place mostly on the Norfolk coast where an illegal agent is believed to have arrived in Britain with a load of illegals and where a local man is found murdered in strange circumstances by a military weapon. Then the hunt is on for the person—a woman they soon discover—who meets the illegal and travels with him on his mission.

It’s not a bad thriller. Certainly the details of the chase are detailed and believable. The characters, both good and bad, are interesting and the pace of the novel works. There’s a love affair that nags in the background—possibly because that sort of thing is demanded these days—but it’s pretty feeble and the heroine decides quite early to walk out of it because her heart is really in her job. It’s so unimportant that it’s not even tied up in the end. The possibly dirty officer part of the plot is not followed up either. The odd behavior of MI6 part of the plot is tied up in the end.
Profile Image for Morag.
55 reviews2 followers
February 19, 2019
So disappointed with this as I'd heard good things. I got to chapter 10, nothing happened and I didn't care about any of the characters.
Profile Image for Carrie.
417 reviews2 followers
April 7, 2023
In the hunt for a new spy/thriller series, I came across this author, and I am not disappointed. It is a basic thriller, with all kinds of hitches and turns. The main character is interesting and not the usual spy or detective. I found a good series to work through. The author is up to book 12 in the series.
Profile Image for Ingo.
1,204 reviews11 followers
October 14, 2013
Started October 11th, 2013.
Bought a cheap Daily Kindle-Deal, and that was the 7th in this series: The Geneva Trap . After some research I bought this (the first) to start with the series.
As of this date this is not available as a Kindle-eBook (in Germany, but I also looked elsewhere), I had to buy the EPUB and convert it with Calibre to Mobi, so I can read it on my Kindle Paperwhite (first edition).
While the idea to read a book by a former spook (UK Mi5-Member) sounds interesting, the last one Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer was rather dull and dragged. But that was no spy-novel but instead a real-life-account, so that was ok, and I did not read it for entertainment but rather information.
Not entirely fast paced, it picked up speed after the first third.
Brilliant British English, very sophisticated. A comparison with the mostly US-American-English seems unfair, but having read a few self-published ebooks lately, this was a refreshing cut above even to most US-Bestsellers (like Patterson etc.).
So why not 5 stars? Too slow in the beginning, at times too much backstory for some persons, pieces of information added nothing to the main-story. In contrast I was relieved how Liz handled her love-life.
Highly recommend but not a real page-turner.
The next book in the series Secret Asset will also be the next book I read, just bought and downloaded it.
Profile Image for Jeremy Lee.
18 reviews
February 2, 2015
I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by this! I am not a huge fan of espionage books (I have read some over the years) but I must say I really enjoyed this one, the first in the Liz Carlyle series - I gather there are eight altogether now and I shall be starting the next one right away! Liz Carlyle is an agent-runner in MI5's Joint Counter-Terrorist Group, which is facing the ultimate intelligence nightmare; an "invisible," a terrorist who's an ethnic native of the target country and thus able to cross its borders unchecked and move around unquestioned. All Liz and her team have to go on is the suspicion that a local fisherman who was shot with an unusual armor-piercing gun known to be favored by foreign agents and whose body was found in the restroom of a transport café near a smuggler's beach may have been involved in helping an undercover operative known as "Vengeance Before God" enter England without benefit of passport or visa - a man whose mission, if not his identity, has been the subject of recent intelligence "chatter" from militant Muslim sources. And while Liz thinks she knows who the operative is - an Afghani with forged papers last seen in a German port city--she doesn't have a clue about the "invisible" who's helping him, or the target in their crosshairs. This is a tightly drawn, well paced thriller which had me wanting to read more from the first page. The characters seem authentic and she gives a good sense of the shadowy world of the intelligence services. Definitely a four star rating for me!
6 reviews
July 21, 2011
I took up this book because it was written by a woman who became the first female director of MI5. That's a pretty remarkable thing, even today. And unlike similar books I have read, the author creates in this novel a world that is decidedly real. One of the most thrilling aspects of this story is that it very well could happen at any time. It also honestly explores the darker side to government operations. The missions and accidents that people are not so proud of, that they don't want the press or the people to hear. That said, there are a couple of reason why I gave it the rating I did. For one, the flow of the story was a bit choppy at times. She brought the necessary bits and pieces together, but sometimes in a way that was completely disruptive to the narrative. It would have earned 5 stars, even still, if Ms. Rimington had tied up a few of the loose ends a little more clearly, and had alluded to and explained some of the surprises a little more thoroughly. One thing that frustrates me in a book is a seemingly abandoned subplot. And the one I am referring to isn't even that important to the story, but the fact that she repeatedly brought it up, yet there was no real resolution to it perhaps because it was so minor, is annoying. But all other things considered, it was a very good first outing, and I am looking forward to trying her other books.
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