One of the star attractions at last year’s Hay-on-Wye Festival of Literature and the Arts in England was Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, Britain’s spy service. Diminutive but with a definite “presence”, she held the large audience rapt as she talked about what became her not-so-private life after the country’s top spook was “outed”, and about her second career as a writer of spy fiction.
Inevitably she faced questions about how much of her central character, Liz Carlyle, the head of M15’s Counter Terrorism section, was based on her own experiences and real life events. Unfortunately no real secrets were passed. Not in the business of giving too much away she described it as “memory lane-ish”.
Close Call is the eighth in Rimington’s Liz Carlyle series and finds her just back at her desk after a holiday with her lover Martin Seurat of the DGSE, the French Military Intelligence Service Her section has been given a “watching brief” of under-the-counter arms supplies to Arab Spring rebels. Perhaps coincidentally, a young American agent working undercover had been seriously injured in a stabbing. More worrying is the possibility that a group of young radicalised men have returned to England and are planning an attack on home soil.
Close Call is highly topical as countries around the world try and tackle the inevitable fall-out from the number of young men fighting jihad in countries like Iraq and Syria and then returning “home”. The plot has all the necessary twists and turns to keep the pages turning although I found there were sections that got bogged down with the heavy focus on process, unfortunately weighing it down with authenticity.
In an interview earlier this year Rimington said that Carlyle is “all the things I like to think I once was. Sparky and spiky… I let her say many of the things I thought but didn’t always say about all the patronising male colleagues and so on.” Close Call is definitely payback on that score.
Close Call by Stella Rimington is published by Bloomsbury. If you are fascinated by the spy world visit Rimington’s website for some fascinating extras.