Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Illegal Action by Stella Rimington

Illegal Action (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)

When Stella Rimington first published a novel in 2004, I was pleased, surprised, and interested. It was kind of cool, watching the watchers, and seeing what she decided to share with us of her life and her work as the first female Director General of Britain's domestic security service, MI-5. Her earlier work, particularly her first novel, At Risk, was good. But the editor needed a sharper pen on this latest spy caper, which did not quite reach the mark. Perhaps writing is a stress-reliever for her and we should not ask for more than is offered. But all novelists must run the guantlet of reviewers.

The story here is has Russian actors, and it seems to be reminiscent, in the beginning at least, of the real-life murder of the Soviet citizen Alexander Litvinenko. The ripped-from-the-headlines quality Rimington can bring to her writing certainly adds cachet, but unfortunately her main character was an ice queen who inspired little confidence and no loyalty. I am not at all sure the reserve and secrecy so useful to the DG of MI-5 are particularly useful characteristics for novelists. One must reveal deep truths about characters if we would be willing to walk a distance with them in an alternate universe.

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