Novel: Present Danger by Stella Rimington

With my to-read shelf threatening to collapse, I decided to lighten its load a bit with a book I knew would read quickly: the fifth Liz Carlyle novel from Stella Rimington, Present Danger (2009). As expected, I blazed through it, and found it light, but smooth and satisfying.

Political maneuverings behind the scenes once again shift Carlyle’s career in a new direction, as she’s transferred away from London to Belfast to head the agent-running section. The region is now at peace, but underneath its placid surface an underground of former IRA soldiers continues its ideological fight, planning terrorist operations against the British government. MI-5 receives information from a disgruntled member of this underground that local police and intelligence officers may be targeted for assassination. Along with her longtime friend and colleague Dave Armstrong, Carlyle heads up the resulting¬† investigation, centered around a sketchy American expatriate and a cunning French arms dealer, in an adventure that ultimately leads them southward from Northern Ireland to the Mediterranean.

Rimington, the former Director-General of MI-5 whose long career there saw her work in various departments, clearly intends to supply her protagonist with the same broadness of experience. After an effortlessly read but disappointing fourth outing, Present Danger refreshingly changes things up with a new milieu, even as Carlyle interacts with familiar faces and personal problems while dealing with new professional challenges. Compared to the ultra-dark, convoluted cynicism of much contemporary spy fiction, Rimington’s tales feel almost comfortable, but her down-to-earth fictional world also rings true. It’s another quick, engaging episode of the continuing series.

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