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At Risk Hardcover – January 11, 2005

3.9 out of 5 stars 80 customer reviews
Book 1 of 8 in the Liz Carlyle Novels Series

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Amazon.com Review

The woman who formerly headed Britain's intelligence service (and what would Ian Fleming have made of that?) comes in from the cold with a smart, clever, and brilliantly paced thriller that seems ripped from the headlines--if not today's, then probably tomorrow's. Liz Carlyle is an agent-runner in MI-5's Joint Counter-Terrorist Group, which is facing the ultimate intelligence nightmare; an "invisible," a terrorist who's an ethnic native of the target country and thus able to cross its borders unchecked and move around its environs unquestioned. All Liz and her team have to go on is the suspicion that a local fisherman who was shot with an unusual armor-piercing gun known to be favored by foreign agents and whose body was found in the restroom of a transport café near a smuggler's beach may have been involved in helping an undercover operative known as "Vengeance Before God" enter England without benefit of passport or visa--a man whose mission, if not his identity, has been the subject of recent intelligence "chatter" from militant Muslim sources. And while Liz thinks she knows who the operative is--an Afghani with forged papers last seen in a German port city--she doesn't have a clue about the "invisible" who's helping him, or the target in their crosshairs.

This is a tightly drawn, expertly told tale that wastes few words in describing the shadowy world of the intelligence services, the turf battles and infighting, and even the romantic entanglements that attend the lives of those involved. It marks a promising second career for its author, whose future success will doubtless be much more public than her earlier accomplishments. --Jane Adams

From Publishers Weekly

The first woman director general of Britain's MI5, Rimington speaks smartly about workplace issues while ratcheting the tension high in her authoritative debut thriller. Enter Liz Carlyle, an agent-runner with a taste for vintage clothes; her married lover, Mark Callendar, whom she doesn't love; and an appealing head of section, Charles Wetherby. You don't need Liz's deductive powers to figure out that Wetherby will eventually succeed Mark, who terminally annoys Liz by leaving his wife. Liz is married to her job. Small wonder: it doesn't get more exciting than this. The Islamic Terror Syndicate (ITS) may be about to deploy an "invisible"—"an ethnic native of the target country"—and only Liz can pull together all the threads. Rimington infuses the chase with moral complexity by making the invisible a real human being, no matter that she boasts a fake name and has "become a cipher, a selfless instrument of vengeance, a Child of Heaven." Most of the characters feel authentic, although Rimington occasionally goes on about strangers briefly glimpsed and introduces several wryly flirtatious male agents too many. She is open about having had an assist with the structure of the book, but the voice rings true, and she keeps faith with a genre she clearly venerates.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (January 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400043700
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400043705
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,154,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Stella Rimington's "At Risk" is everything a spy novel should be. It's timely, intricate, deeply psychological, action-packed, and suspenseful. The heroine is Liz Carlyle, a member of M15, Britain's domestic military intelligence division. She has risen in the ranks because she is super-competent, extremely sharp, and obsessed with being the best at what she does. Liz has sacrificed the very idea of home and family; she is married to her job.

When Liz gets together with her colleagues in the Joint Counter-Terrorism Group, she learns that Islamic terrorists may be deploying an "invisible" to stage an attack in Great Britain. An "invisible" is an individual who is Western in appearance and has the credentials to blend into his or her surroundings undetected by the authorities. When the mysterious killing of a shadowy figure named Ray Gunter occurs soon after this information is released, alarm bells go off. Gunter was shot with a special type of sophisticated weapon that would unavailable to an ordinary street thug. In addition, Gunter may have been involved in the smuggling of illegal immigrants into England. Could one of these illegals be a terrorist at large? This gives Liz and her team all of the ammunition that they need to start an investigation into a possible act of violence to be carried out in the near future on English soil.

The characters in "At Risk" are all skillfully depicted. Besides Liz, there is her steady boss, Wetherby, who seems to understand Liz better than she does herself. Much to her chagrin, Liz is suddenly forced to work with Bruno Mackay, a member of M16, Britain's foreign military intelligence division, who knows a great deal about the Pakistani terrorist scene.
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Format: Hardcover
In my far from extensive reading of espionage novels I think this is the first since Maugham's Ashenden, which is a different kind of book entirely, where I have actually been able to follow the plot. There are probably two reasons for this. One is that the author is a top-level intelligence insider, and one who reached the top through working up within the organisation, and who consequently knows and is able to convey the real feel of it. The other, I suspect, is that she is a newcomer to fiction-writing who has not quite mastered the trick of bamboozlement, although of course it may also be that she has no interest in that and that nothing was further from her intention.

Dame Stella Rimington has, to my way of thinking, a very attractive cast of mind, at least to the extent that it shows in this book. By her own admission her 'narrator' (to all intents and purposes) has a lot of herself in her. If she had tried to suggest otherwise I would not have believed her for an instant. I enjoyed the ironic little asides, especially the one about publishing memoirs in the teeth of official disapproval. I liked this kind of professionalism in respect of the job too. It is the mind-set of a reasonable, dedicated but level-headed woman with a sense of humour and a sense of proportion, making the best sense she can of the terrorist mentality without either ideological blindness on the one hand or fuzzy-headed liberalism on the other. She even shows an engaging detachment regarding her 'narrator's own emotional involvement, and it may be that organising that side of it into a story was a help to her personally. The character-drawing is distinctly good, I should say, although I am curious to know why she chose the name Ray Gunter in one case.
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Format: Hardcover
Rimington's first novel is a good example of a small-scale contemporary novel of intrigue and espionage. Unlike Tom Clancy, she does not fling divisions across oceans, nor are the terrorists able to call on great organizations once they are in country.

Her primary terrorist is not from the usual hate-the-west-in- general school. Instead, he has a particular event to avenge. The other terrorist is well-drawn as a young woman whose life has so starved her emotionally that she needs a cause to make herself whole. Both of these are perfectly understandable and make good sense.

The Brits are drawn from various types, with a moderated version of the vicious turf fights recounted in other Brit spy novels and which make American readers wonder how they ever get anything done.

The heroine is competent, clever, and has streaks of genius, which are to be expected in someone who has risen to her level. You can't get there by plodding.

There are a couple of problems with the book. The first hard clue that gives a starting point to the search for the "invisible" terrorist is the discovery of an armor-piercing bullet at the scene of a murder. It was also a silent shooting. Those who know something of guns are going to be puzzled. Armor-piercing from a pistol? Silent? How do you do that? Rimington attempts to explain it in terms which are hard to follow unless you simply accept the premise. And if you know something about guns, you won't accept the premise without considerably more and clearer explanation. I think I know something about guns and I don't think you can fire a silenced AP round from a pistol, and if you can, Rimington's explanation was unclear. The explanation should have been done better or a different clue should have been used.
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