Spy Wednesday

Wednesday, 27 March, 2013

Rip Tide Today, the Wednesday before Easter, is known as “Spy Wednesday“, indicating it’s the day Judas Iscariot conspired with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus for 30 silver coins. An ideal day, then, for an espionage thriller and our recommendation is Rip Tide by Dame Stella Rimington, the former Director General of the British security service MI5. Rimington was the first female boss of MI5 and it is only fitting, then, that her protagonist is a woman, 34-year-old Liz Carlyle, an MI5 intelligence officer.

The story revolves around the puzzle of why a young British Muslim from a well-to-do Pakistani family in Birmingham ends up onboard a Somali pirate boat in the Indian Ocean. This is dangerously male world, and Liz Carlyle must use all her cunning to unravel its layers. At the same time, she has to deal with jealous office politics where powerful men use their old boys’ clubs to keep “upstarts” at bay. One of these men is Geoffrey Fane of MI6, the agency which supplies Her Majesty’s Government with foreign intelligence. When he suggests a venue for lunch, it has to be the Athenaeum. Snippet:

“As the she climbed the steps to the entrance, Liz realised with some annoyance that she felt nervous. She was not an habituée of the Pall Mall clubs, which she found dauntingly grand, and this one seemed grander than most. As she pushed open the semi-glazed door, Liz combed her hair into some sort of order with her fingers. Inside, was a tall pillared hall leading to a magnificent double staircase. Moonlike, high on the wall, a large round clock dominated the space below. Classical statues loomed to the right and left of her.

Inside, a green-suited, brass-buttoned porter looked at Liz with polite enquiry. After a moment’s hesitation, she asked for Geoffrey Fane. The porter nodded and indicated a familiar figure rising from a leather bench to greet her. Somewhere in a room to the right there was a deep masculine hum of conversation — some kind of bar presumably.”

This is the kind of thing that readers of Stella Rimington’s thrillers expect. She was, after all, at the top of the game in her time, mixing with the movers and shakers, and a touch of Pall Mall verisimilitude here and there adds credibility to the narrative. Liz Carlyle is no James Bond, but neither is she an anti-James Bond. Rather, she’s an ambitious technocrat in a business that increasingly involves the analysis of Big Data to find the treacherous needle in the stack of needles inside and outside her agency. She’s a good spy as, no doubt, Dame Stella Rimington was.

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