Novel: Secret Asset by Stella Rimington

I found the first novel by Stella Rimington (At Risk, reviewed here) promising, and I’m now happy to report that its sequel, Secret Asset (2006), continues to fulfill that promise. With three more novels after this one, Rimington looks to be a reliable source of engaging, intelligent spy thrillers for a while, and I’m looking forward to following the series as it unfolds.

After a leave of absence, MI5 counterterrorist agent Liz Carlyle returns to the fold just as one of her former agents, codenamed Marzipan, delivers intelligence that suggests an imminent terrorist threat may be developing at the Islamic bookstore where he works. But Liz doesn’t have much time to concern herself with this, as she is reassigned to a low-profile internal investigation; it’s suspected there may be a mole in Thames House, planted years ago by the IRA. The mole, who may never have been activated by his handlers, is believed to have been recruited at Oxford, which gives Liz and her young assistant Peggy Kinsolving (seconded from MI6) a narrow list of suspects to vet. But as the investigation continues, it becomes apparent that Liz’s mole-hunt and Marzipan’s intelligence may well be connected, and Liz once again finds herself spearheading an MI5 effort to thwart an impending terrorist attack.

Rimington does a fine job spinning a good old-fashioned mole hunt, and I think Secret Asset is a smoother, more satisfying read than At Risk. I’m not sure exactly why, as it’s not all that significantly better; perhaps it’s simply that it’s more streamlined and self-contained, and moves at a brisker pace. It’s another understated, realistic glimpse at espionage from someone who knows the world, where careful analysis and investigative legwork trump convoluted endgames, gadgetry, and violent derring-do — more The┬áSandbaggers than 24, in other words. As a fan of the first book, I found even more to like here. Good stuff.

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