Tuesday 7 October 2014

Book review: Close Call, Stella Rimington (2014)

For a number of reasons this is one of the most sombre of Rimington's novels, not the least of which is a notable death that impacts heavily on Liz Carlyle, the author's regular heroine. For me, the dark tone of this novel took hold when a second member of the forces that are ranged against criminals turned out to be a crook. The first bad apple to appear in the book is Antoine Milraud, a former member of the French security service who turned gun trader. We have met Milraud in earlier Rimington novels. But it is the second - a senior member of the British police's Special Branch - whose betrayal of the principles of justice seems to weigh most heavily on Rimington. It can't be easy to admit that some serving officers fall off the straight and narrow way, especially for someone like Rimington who, as head of Britain's domestic spy service, must have been privy to many such cases during her tenure in that post.

In the novel the terror plot which Carlyle is drawn to disrupt has an inexorable logic to it, too, and this mechanical advance of the terrorists' plans also serves to demonstrate that Rimington has reached a higher level of maturity, in this novel, compared to earlier ones. There is one moment of chaos when the author's hand appears a bit too prominently in the drama, toward the end of the book, but in general the action has a consistency and rationale to it that shows the author is firmly in control of her subject. You are able to concentrate on the details, confident that it is among them that the clues to the characters' destinies lies, and Rimington provides plenty of suspenseful pursuit - of villains in the streets of Berlin and London - and of the truth more broadly. This is a highly readable novel and one that represents a new level of composure for the author, one of today's spy fiction giants.