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by Stella Rimington
Hutchinson, August 2007
464 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 0091797225

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

ILLEGAL ACTION sees a change of position for Stella Rimington's protagonist, Liz Carlyle. She is moved, to her annoyance, to Counter-Espionage from her customary haunts of Counter-Terrorism. When the Cold War was in progress, Liz's new task would have been a plum job of considerable esteem, but in the new, warmer climate, she sees the backwaters of the new posting as positively stagnant. Still, former MI6 officer Peggy Kinsolving will be with her, since, after being seconded to MI5 temporarily, Peggy has decided to stay there permanently.

The intelligence services are taking an interest in a Russian billionaire, a so-called oligarch, named Vladimir Rykov. President Putin of Russia has become somewhat paranoid and fears a plot is being hatched amongst the overseas oligarchs. He thinks that the only way to beat them is by striking before they can. His proposed assassination target is Rykov and MI5 decides to forestall any assassination attempt on British soil by putting an agent of their own in place for Rykov's protection. Thus, Liz is to be introduced into the Russian's household for the oligarch's protection, at his request.

No other author is as well qualified to write about the covert intelligence services as Rimington since she was the head of MI5 for a number of years. She can bring the reader down to earth if said reader is likely to see those operations as wildly romantic and full of swashbuckling James Bond-like manifestations of British officialdom.

Rimington injects the stark reality of the situation into her books the fact that a lot of the work involved is simply paper-pushing. Perhaps she stepped back from her own plots and realised she needed to include some overt thrills to liven the pace a bit, since she includes an attack on Carlyle by a common English thug.

The MI5 and MI6 personnel are given credibility by having some of their familial and romantic aspirations made clear to the reader. Regardless, none of Rimington's people could be categorised as charismatic. Still the comparative boredom of their days serves to reinforce their reality.

Liz Carlyle is certainly a resourceful invention and moves the plot along at a realistic pace. Nonetheless, despite the addition of the mugging scene, the plot seems devoid of real, hair-raising thrills. No doubt this is seen by the author as promoting excitement for the reader but the books might be improved by incorporating a few more thrills other than the obvious add-on of Liz's mugging.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, August 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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