I've been meaning to read one of Stella Rimington's books for a long time. I chose Illegal Action, the third in her series featuring MI5 intelligence officer Liz Carlyle. Rimington's books have been on the edge of my vision because of one reason: She is the former Director General of MI5, with experience in counter terrorism and counter espionage.
She was "outed" by the press in England during her term as MI5's Director General, usually an unpublicized and anonymous position. According to information available on the internet, she has been unusually forthcoming about what MI5 does and what her position entailed, going so far as to write a memoir in which she described the organization.
Illegal Action is not weighted with spycraft lingo and indecipherable plots; rather, I found the writing clear and riveting. Carlyle is a work-driven woman in a male-dominated field. She has sacrificed having a family and engaging in normal social activities to retain her job and attain her status as an intelligent intelligence officer.
Rimington's plot revolves around the possible assassination of a Russian oligarch in England. Where have many of the rich Russians landed? In London. Who's watching them, Cold-War style? More Russian spies than ever before. So, who is watching the watchers becomes the final question. The answer, much to her disappointment, is Liz Carlyle.
Carlyle is transferred to counter espionage – a demotion as far as she is concerned – and imbedded as a student of Russian art in the home of one of the more flamboyant of the Russian tycoons. She is there primarily to assess if he is a potential target. Along the way she meets many suspicious characters, including the Russian's flashy English girlfriend, an emotional secretary, a garrulous Italian art dealer, and an attractive representative of The Hermitage.
The attraction of this book lies in the details. The agents from MI5 and other governmental agencies expose the fine balancing act of authority. We see their weaknesses and their strengths, and this adds to the movement of Rimington's tale. Well done, DG Rimington!