At Risk (Liz Carlyle Series #1)

At Risk (Liz Carlyle Series #1)

by Stella Rimington

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At Risk (Liz Carlyle Series #1) by Stella Rimington

A terrorist is targeting Britain. And to make matters worse it’s an “invisible”-- Mi5-speak for someone traveling under a British passport. Virtually impossible to find before it’s too late.

The job falls to Liz Carlyle, the most resourceful counter terror agent in British intelligence. Tracking down this invisible is a challenge like none she has faced before. It will require all her hard-won experience, to say nothing of her intelligence and courage. Drawing on her own years as Britain's highest-ranking spy, Stella Rimington gives us a story that is smart, tautly drawn, and suspenseful from first to last.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400079810
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/30/2006
Series: Liz Carlyle Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 380,928
Product dimensions: 4.19(w) x 6.88(h) x 0.86(d)

About the Author

Stella Rimington joined Britain's Security Service (MI5) in 1969. During her nearly thirty-year career she worked in all the main fields of the Service's responsibilities--counter-subversion, counter-espionage, and counter-terrorism--and became successively director of all three branches. Appointed director general of MI5 in 1992, she was the first woman to hold the post and the first director general whose name was publicly announced on appointment. Following her retirement from MI5 in 1996, she became a non-executive director of Marks and Spencer and published her autobiography, Open Secret, in the United Kingdom. She is currently at work on her next novel.

Read an Excerpt


With quiet finality, the tube train drew to a stop. A long hydraulic gasp, and then silence.

For several moments no one in the crowded carriage moved. And then, as the stillness and the silence deepened, eyes began to flicker. Standing passengers peered worriedly through the windows into the blackness, as if hoping for some explanatory vision or revelation.

They were halfway between Mornington Crescent and Euston, Liz Carlyle calculated. It was five past eight, it was Monday, and she was almost certainly going to be late for work. Around her pressed the smell of other people ’s damp clothes. A wet briefcase, not her own, rested in her lap.

Nestling her chin into her velvet scarf, Liz leant back into her seat and cautiously extended her feet in front of her. She shouldn’t have worn the pointed plum-coloured shoes. She ’d bought them a couple of weeks earlier on a light-hearted and extravagant shopping trip, but now the toes were beginning to curl up from the soaking they’d received on the way to the station. From experience she knew that the rain would leave nasty indelible marks on the leather. Equally infuriatingly, the kitten heels had turned out to be just the right size to get wedged in the cracks between paving stones.

After ten years of employment at Thames House, Liz had never satisfactorily resolved the clothes issue. The accepted look, which most people seemed gradually to fall into, lay somewhere between sombre and invisible. Dark trouser suits, neat skirts and jackets, sensible shoes – the sort of stuff you found in John Lewis or Marks and Spencer.

While some of her colleagues took this to extremes, cultivating an almost Soviet drabness, Liz instinctively subverted it. She often spent Saturday afternoons combing the antique clothing stalls in Camden Market for quixotically stylish bargains which, while they infringed no Service rules, certainly raised a few eyebrows. It was a bit like school, and Liz smiled as she remembered the grey pleated skirts which could be dragged down to regulation length in the classroom and then hiked to a bum-freezing six inches above the knee for the busride home. A little fey to be fighting the same wars at thirtyfour, perhaps, but something inside her still resisted being submerged by the gravity and secrecy of work at Thames House.

Intercepting her smile, a strap-hanging commuter looked her up and down. Avoiding his appreciative gaze, Liz ran a visual check on him in return, a process which was now second nature to her. He was dressed smartly, but with a subtly conservative fussiness which was not quite of the City. The upper slopes of academia, perhaps? No, the suit was hand-made. Medicine? The well-kept hands supported that idea, as did the benign but unmistakable arrogance of his appraisal. A consultant with a few years’ private practice and a dozen pliant nurses behind him, Liz decided, headed for one of the larger teaching hospitals. And next to him a goth-girl. Purple hair extensions, Sisters of Mercy T-shirt under the bondage jacket, pierced everything. A bit early in the day, though, for one of her tribe to be up and about. Probably works in a clothes shop or music store or . . . no, got you. The faint shiny ridge on the thumb where the scissors pressed. She was a hairdresser, spending her days transforming nice girls from the suburbs into Hammer Horror vampires.

Inclining her head, Liz once again touched her cheek to the silky scarlet nap of her scarf, enveloping herself in a faint scented miasma which brought Mark’s physical presence – his eyes and his mouth and his hair – rushing home to her. He had bought her the scent from Guerlain on the Champs Elysées (wildly unsuitable, needless to say) and the scarf from Dior on the Avenue Montaigne. He had paid cash, he later told her, so that there would be no paper trail. He had always had an unerring instinct for the tradecraft of adultery.

She remembered every detail of the evening. On the way back from Paris, where he had been interviewing an actress, he had arrived without warning at Liz’s basement flat in Kentish Town. She’d been in the bath, listening to La Bohème and trying half-heartedly to make sense of an article in The Economist, and suddenly there he was, and the floor was strewn with expensive white tissue paper and the place was reeking – gorgeously and poignantly – of Vol de Nuit.

Afterwards they had opened a bottle of duty-free Moët and climbed back into the bath together. ‘Isn’t Shauna expecting you?’ Liz had asked guiltily.

‘She ’s probably asleep’ Mark answered cheerfully. ‘She ’s had her sister’s kids all weekend.’

‘And you, meanwhile . . .’

‘I know. It’s a cruel world, isn’t it?’

The thing that had baffled Liz at first was why he had married Shauna in the first place. From his descriptions of her, they seemed to have nothing in common whatever. Mark Callendar was feckless and pleasure-loving and possessed of an almost feline perceptiveness – a quality which made him one of the most sought-after profilists in print journalism – while his wife was an unbendingly earnest feminist academic. She was forever hounding him for his unreliability, he was forever evading her humourless wrath. There seemed no purpose to any of it.

But Shauna was not Liz’s problem. Mark was Liz’s problem. The relationship was complete madness and, if she didn’t do something about it soon, could well cost her her job. She didn’t love Mark and she dreaded to think of what would happen if the whole thing was forced out into the open. For a long time it had looked as if he was going to leave Shauna, but he hadn’t, and Liz now doubted that he ever would. Shauna, she had gradually come to understand, was the negative to his positive charge, the AC to his DC, the Wise to his Morecambe; between them they made up a fully functioning unit.

And sitting there in the halted train it occurred to her that what really excited Mark was the business of transformation. Descending on Liz, ruffling her feathers, laughing at her seriousness, magicking her into a bird of paradise. If she had lived in an airy modern flat overlooking one of the London parks, with wardrobes full of exquisite designer clothes, then she would have held no interest for him at all.

She really had to end it. She hadn’t told her mother about him, needless to say, and in consequence, whenever she stayed the weekend with her in Wiltshire, she had to endure a wellintentioned homily about Meeting Someone Nice.

‘I know it’s difficult when you can’t talk about your job;’ her mother had begun the night before, lifting her head from the photo album that she was sorting out, ‘but I read in the paper the other day that over nineteen hundred people work in that building with you, and that there are all sorts of social activities you can do. Why don’t you take up amateur dramatics or Latin American dancing or something?’

‘Mum, please!’ She imagined a group of Northern Ireland desk officers and A4 surveillance men descending on her with eyes blazing, maracas shaking, and coloured ruffles pinned to their shirts.
‘Just a suggestion,’ said her mother mildly, and turned back to the album. A minute or two later she lifted out one of Liz’s old class photos.

‘Do you remember Robert Dewey?’

‘Yes,’ said Liz cautiously. ‘Lived in Tisbury. Peed in his pants at the Stonehenge picnic.’

‘He’s just opened a new restaurant in Salisbury. Round the corner from the Playhouse.’

‘Really?’ murmured Liz. ‘Fancy that.’ This was a flanking attack, and what it was really about was her coming home. She had grown up in the small octagonal gatehouse of which her mother was now the sole tenant, and the unspoken hope was that she should return to the country and ‘settle down’, before spinsterhood and the City of Dreadful Night claimed her for ever. Not necessarily with Rob Dewey – he of the sodden shorts – but with someone similar. Someone with whom, at intervals, she could enjoy ‘French cuisine ’ and ‘the theatre ’ and all the other metropolitan amenities to which she had no doubt grown accustomed.

Extricating herself from the maternal web last night had meant that Liz hadn’t got on to the motorway until 10 p.m., and hadn’t reached the Kentish Town flat until midnight. When she let herself in she found that the washing that she ’d put on on Saturday morning was lying in six inches of cloudy water in the machine, which had stopped mid-cycle. It was now far too late to start it again without annoying the neighbours, so she rooted through the dry-cleaning pile for her least crumpled work outfit, hung it over the bath, and took a shower in the hope that the steam would restore a little of its élan. When she finally made it to bed it was almost 1 a.m. She had managed about five and a half hours’ sleep and felt puffy-eyed, adrift on a tide of fatigue.

With a gasp and a long, flatulent shudder, the tube train restarted. She was definitely going to be late.

From the Hardcover edition.

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At Risk (Liz Carlyle Series #1) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
NoNonsenseReader More than 1 year ago
Even though Stella Rimington is not a professional writer (well, at least not yet, when writing this book), and it shows, I still give this novel the high mark.

First of all, the story is very believable. There are too many books in this genre today that are action-packed, but are full of stuff that has nothing to do with reality, as well as stereotypes beaten to death, and for an intelligent reader that makes it impossible to enjoy the book.

Ms Rimington is, of course, the former head of the British Security Service, so that alone is a good reason to believe her description of the work of a female MI5 officer, the terminology, technical stuff, etc. Also, the plot itself is very believable, especially taking into consideration all the news reports of terrorist acts prevented in Europe, including Britain, since the book was written, and the news reports of tragic events in Afghanistan shockingly similar to those described in the book. The only piece that I found to be questionable, was the background of the terrorist: it is highly unlikely that an educated family from Dushanbe (the capital of Tajikistan) would decide to cross a heavily guarded border with dirt-poor war-torn Afghanand to join local Tajiks in a fight against Taleban. But this actually is a very minor part, and does not specifically affect the rest of the story.

Some of the details in the book are actually quite interesting, for example, the silent PSS pistol, it really does exist (even though the translation of its full name is inaccurate in the book); the book gives readers a chance to learn a little about East Anglia geography, even though inexperienced American readers might need need some help with things like Vauxhall Astra (same as Saturn Astra) or car park (parking lot), RAF (Royal Air Force), etc, I am sure most will do just fine.

One other thing struck me while I was reading the book (actually, listening to an audiobook, and narrator Jennifer McMahon does an excellent job), it reminded me of the best parts of Ken Follett's novel "Eye of the Needle", a lot of similarities there.

Taking into consideration that this is Stella Rimington's debut, I think it is a good novel, I highly recommend it to those who like intelligent modern realistic thrillers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'At Risk' is a sharp edged first-class debut by an author who well knows her subject. The first woman director general of Britain's MI5, Stella Rimington, lived the perils and pitfalls found in this amazing spy thriller. She experienced the inner office politics encountered as a woman in a man's world, and faced the realities of terrorist attacks. After 25 years experience she is now a counter-terrorism expert and she brings all of her expertise to bear in penning her first novel. Akin to the author herself protagonist Liz Carlyle is an Intelligence Officer with consummate smarts. In a male dominated profession, she's a bit of an in-your-face gal wearing high heels and designers duds. While most of her colleagues at Thames House tend to be drably dressed, Liz 'often spent Saturday afternoons combing the antique clothing stalls in Camden Market for quixotically stylish bargains which, while they infringed no Service rules, certainly raised a few eyebrows.' Her one flaw seems to be found in affairs of the heart - her married boyfriend is really a louse. He's a man who '...had always had an unerring instinct for the tradecraft of adultery.' Ah, well, not even Liz can know everything. What she would very much like to know, actually needs to know is how to identify the terrorists who are able to cross borders because of their ethnic identity with the country they're entering. Almost before we know it our heroine is head to head with Al Qaeda and their like. She has consulted with her agents and determined that there is more than a probable terrorist threat - it's very possible. Suspense builds as each day and hour brings this possibility closer. Liz is aided in her search by her superior, Charles Wetherby, a rather enigmatic but intriguing married man. It's obvious early on that Liz's growing interest in him is more than professional admiration. Stella Rimington raises the bar for thriller writers with her compelling observation to detail, and shows a deft ability to create mounting suspense as the story unfolds. - Gail Cooke
KenCady More than 1 year ago
With the author now having written 6 novels starring her character,Liz Carlyle, my hope would be that her writing skills have improved. At Risk is awkwardly done, with lots of filler material. I was able to gloss over sections without missing a beat. Three stars, however, means that it wasn't a horrible novel, and it did have some interest for me. So I may take a look at number 6 in the series just to see how the story has improved.
harstan More than 1 year ago
At Thames House, the Joint Counter-Terrorist Group employees learn that the al-Safa organization of the Islamic Terror Syndicate is planting an ¿Invisible¿. Pakistan cooperates and the Immigration Office combs the lists for possible suspects. However, the M-15 and M-16 attendees know how difficult to uncover an Invisible is as these terrorists are a special breed being a native of the host nation. An agent just in from Islamabad corroborates that al-Safa is a rare Islamic terrorist organization because it welcomes full blood Caucasians.--- M-15 agent-runner Liz Carlyle sees her work as a means to avoid her matchmaking mother and a place to hide from her married lover, Mark Callendar, who is no longer convenient. The need to track down the Invisible becomes imminent as the evidence mounts that something big is about to occur. Liz starts to put a human face that seems increasingly female to the trigger, but who she is and who is her handler remains just out of visible scope especially since agents allegedly on her side decide not to share information with anyone.--- This exciting counter-terrorist espionage thriller travels on two story lines that connect via the heroine. Readers receive an exciting race against the clock to prevent a catastrophe while also seeing the inner office shenanigans of hiding critical information behind a need not to know façade and sexual harassment towards the token estrogen in a testosterone world. The prime plot is typical of the sub-genre with its adrenaline rush to climax, but is slowed down somewhat by the office side, which is more interestingly unique (and perhaps autobiographical) though not as exhilarating. Spy fans are not AT RISK reading this fine tale.--- Harriet Klausner
edwardsgt on LibraryThing 3 days ago
An excellent (fictional) story of everyday counter-terrorism by MI5, written with the authenticity (it seems anyway) only someone from the inside could have provided (Stella Rimington was Head of MI5). The settings in North Norfolk particularly interested me, as someone who lived there for 12 years.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Well, this is the first novel I’ve read from this author. It seemed to start out a bit slow, however, I really couldn’t put the book down much until I finished. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good plot, definitely worth reading!
ToriSinging More than 1 year ago
OK, As a woman I wish the Liz Carlyle books could all be perfect and puzzling and putting my mind in constant tension & uncertainty. But this one didn't. Maybe I should have not gone back to the first in the series. But I will read the next one!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I almost paid $7 for this book. Reading the sample it was almost a clone of Rip Tide which I just finished reading. I am very impressed by this author's style of writing, but reading both of these books back to back with almost the same plot and characters is a bit much. I am not saying that I will never read it, maybe later.
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