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This is the eighth book in a series by former head of the British Secret Service, Stella Rimington, featuring Liz Carlyle, Section Head of the Counter Terrorism Unit at MI5. Liz and her team have been given a watching brief on arms supplies to rebels involved in the Arab Spring uprising, after fears that the rebel groups have been infiltrated by al-Qaeda-type jihadis. It transpires that the source of the arms deals is in Europe, leading Liz on a frantic mission to Paris, Berlin – and Manchester.
The operation puts Liz in contact with a face from her past, Jimmy McManus, once a policeman of questionable moral tactics, now deputy head of Special Branch in Manchester. Much more pleasantly, she is also required to work closely with her current romantic partner, Martin Seurat, of the French intelligence agency, as the two countries, together with the Americans, attempt to halt the movement of illegal arms from Yemen to England.
There are four different types of men in Liz Carlyle’s life: ex-lovers, current lovers, men who wish they were her lovers, and Bad Guys. (Just to be clear, our Liz does not consort with Bad Guys. Or at least, not yet. Maybe that’s a plot twist for a future book.) It is difficult not to wonder whether Ms Rimington herself indulged in as many romantic trysts in her professional life as Liz enjoys. I confess I had only read one other of the Liz Carlyle books in the series of now eight, but it did not matter. There is enough filling of backstories for the uninitiated to get the gist of what has previously happened to recurring characters.
Knowing that the author was, for several years, head of MI5 gives the book an added intrigue. Although she is no doubt bound by all manner of Official Secrets laws, Rimington manages to give the story enough of an air of realism that the reader feels let in on at least a little of what must go on behind closed, and carefully locked, doors.
“’Well, I’ve got things you folks need to know,’ said Bokus [Andy Bokus, of the CIA]. ‘We’ll go down to the Bubble.’ The Bubble was the secure room in the bowels of the basement, purpose-built to foil any attempt at eavesdropping. It always struck Liz as strange and illogical that, as the main threat of eavesdropping in London must come from the British intelligence services, the Agency conducted its most sensitive conversations with the British in their most secure room.”
With so much in even our own national news lately about intelligence-gathering by government agencies, the Liz Carlyle novels feel quite topical. Rimington’s autobiography has been on my ‘To Read’ list for some time. Reading Close Call made me even more eager to bump the memoir further up my rankings.
Close Call starts slowly, as does Liz’s watching brief of the situation. The last third of the book finally picks up the pace as the arms deal gets closer to British shores. Fans of espionage-type thrillers will find this an easy but enjoyable read.
Review by Tiffany Matsis
by Stella Rimington
Published by Bloomsbury