With her debut novel, At Risk, Stella Rimington established herself as a top-notch thriller writer, and introduced us to Liz Carlyle--a smart, impassioned MI5 intelligence officer whose talents and ambitions are counterbalanced by an abiding awareness of her job's moral complexities. In Secret Asset, we are plunged back into her high-stakes, high-tension world.
Liz has always been particularly skilled at "assessing people," and when one of her agents reports suspicious meetings taking place at an Islamic bookshop, she trusts her instinct that a terrorist cell is at work. Her boss, Charles Wetherby, Director of Counter-Terrorism, knows to trust Liz's instincts as well: he immediately puts a surveillance operation into place.
So Liz is surprised when Wetherby suddenly takes her off the case. And she's shocked to hear why: Wetherby has received a tip-off that a mole--a "secret asset"--has been planted in one of the branches of British Intelligence. If this is true, the potential damage to the Service is immeasurable. As her colleagues work to avert an impending terrorist strike, Liz is charged with the momentous task of uncovering and exposing the mole before it's too late.
As she did in At Risk, Stella Rimington once again brings all her experience as the first woman Director General of MI5 to bear in a heart-stopping thriller that takes us deep into a "wilderness of mirrors" where nothing is what it seems and no one can be trusted.
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June 18, 2007
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Excerpt from Secret Asset by Stella Rimington
In the upmarket bathroom shop in Regent's Park Road in North London, the slim brown-haired woman was showing a close interest in the display of tiles. "Do you need some help?" asked the young male assistant, who was keen to close since it was almost seven o'clock in the evening.
Liz Carlyle was killing time. In trainers and designer jeans, she looked like any of the wealthy young married women who drifted in and out of the interior-design shops and boutiques of this part of London. But Liz was neither wealthy nor married and she was certainly not drifting. She was very focused indeed. She was waiting for the device she held tightly in her left hand to vibrate once--the signal that it was safe for her to proceed to the meeting in the coffee shop further down the road. In the mirror on the shop wall facing her, she could see Wally Woods, the leader of the A4 team providing counter- surveillance backup, taking his time buying an Evening Standard from the newsvendor on the corner.
He had already sent the two pulses, which signalled that her contact, Marzipan, was inside the cafe waiting for her. Once his team further up the street on either side were satisfied that no one had followed Marzipan, Wally would send the okay.
A young Asian man, dressed in black jeans and a hooded top, came along from the direction of Chalk Farm Underground Station. Wally and his team watched tensely as he paused to look in an estate agent's window. Moving on, he crossed over and left Regent's Park Road, walking off into the distance down a side street. Now the device in Liz's hand vibrated once. "Thanks very much," said Liz to the relieved shop assistant. "I'll bring my husband in tomorrow evening and we'll decide then." She left the shop, turned right and walked quickly along the street to the coffee shop, which she entered without hesitating, all under the watchful eyes of the A4 team.
Inside, Liz waited at the counter to order a cappuccino. She felt the familiar tension in her stomach, the quickened beating of her heart, which always accompanied work on the front line. She had missed this excitement. For the last four months or so, she had been on convalescent leave, following a counter-terrorist operation in Norfolk at the end of the previous year.
She'd gone down to her mother's house in Wiltshire almost immediately after the MI5 doctor had ordered her off work. In the ensuing weeks she'd soon been well enough to help her mother in the garden centre she ran. On days off, they'd visited National Trust houses and cooked elaborate dinners for two; occasionally, at the weekend they would socialise with friends from the neighbourhood. It had been pleasant, tranquil, and agonisingly uneventful. Now on this May evening she was happy to be back at the sharp end of operations.
She had returned to work only that week. "Take your time. Settle in," Charles Wetherby had told her, and back in her office in the counter-terrorism agent-running section she had started with the mountain of paperwork, which had accumulated in her absence. But then the message had come that afternoon from Marzipan--code name for Sohail Din--urgently requesting a meeting. Strictly speaking, Marzipan was no longer Liz's business. Her colleague Dave Armstrong had taken him over, along with the immense promise of reliable information that he represented, the minute she had left. But for the moment Dave was in Leeds on urgent business and Liz, as Marzipan's original recruiter and runner, had been the obvious choice to stand in.
She took her coffee and walked to the gloomy back of the cafe where Marzipan was sitting at a small corner table, reading a book. "Hello Sohail," she said quietly, sitting down.
He closed his book and looked at her in surprise. "Jane!" he exclaimed, using the name he knew her by. "I was not expecting you, but I am so happy to see you."