MI5 officer Liz Carlyle is posted to Northern Ireland. From the moment she lands in Belfast, danger follows. She soon discovers that the peace process in the province is precarious. Then a source reports strange goings-on at a house on the Irish Sea owned by the Fraternity, an organisation Liz suspects of being a front for renegade former IRA men. Its head is Seamus Piggott, an Irish-American with a gun-running past. When another informant reports a plot is being hatched against the security forces, Liz and her colleague Dave Armstrong suspect Piggott is involved, along with a former French Intelligence officer. Moving from London to Belfast to the South of France, the latest Stella Rimington Liz Carlyle novel is a propulsive thriller filled with action and nail-biting suspense.
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Viewing a TV interview with author Stella Rimmington, I was impressed by her personal authority, and the fact that she had mixed parenthood (single parenthood at that) and top leadership in British espionage. So, I reasoned, her fictionalised accounts of life in MI5 had to be laced with authentic details and situations.
But this was not to be the case. It was a hard-work listen, but I persisted believing that, given the author's history, there had to be something engaging ahead. But why was it hard work: maybe it was the reader, I thought -- earnest, sententious and heavy going interpretations of some voices and other voices trivialised. Maybe it was the heroine, Liz Carlyle: impeccably moral, looking for love, brave, conscious of establishing herself as a woman in a previously male world. I thought that it was all fair enough that she shakes, she flutters, needs a hand from her strong males from time to time, is emotional. But Rimmington wasn't establishing her as successfully mixing these traits with professional leadership. In fact, quite the reverse: the actions of this poor woman are used as a pivot for the plot -- Rimmington has her switching off her mobile phone for a day, and deleting unheard phone messages, while she is away from her post. What does that say about what I assume to be the author's goal of demonstrating that women can be effective leaders. Yes, the plot lines continue to be laboured: in addition to the phone aberrations, we also have a trained and experienced operator make reckless decisions as a result of disappointment in love.
But on we go. By now the listener can almost predict what the characters are going to say and how the plot is going to resolve. The baddies are very bad, the goodies are very....well, very dull. The underlying message is very real ('the Irish troubles' are not fully over -- Britain, you are still in danger). And we must suppose that some of the operational details are authentic.
We now move to islands, and cellars, and rescues -- and there's the reader, still sounding as if she is reading a children's story book -- dialogue becomes more clich??d, the plot more inevitable and transparent.
And now it is all over. And Rimmington has disappointed. Was it lack of confidence as a writer? Were there qualities missed entirely due to the way it was read? Did some sort of official secrets act stop her from creating a strong, authentic saga?