Why we love it: In Breaking Cover, veteran MI5 insider and author Stella Rimington delivers a clever, fast-paced and timely espionage thriller that reflects up-to-the minute current events and her own insider knowledge of the intelligence services.
Jasminder Kapoor is a human rights campaigner who’s been critical of the British government’s surveillance of ordinary citizens. One night Kapoor is brutally mugged and almost raped in a seemingly random attack, but is saved in the nick of time by a feisty Norwegian who happened to be passing by. She strikes up a romance with the handsome banker but there’s something about him that seems too good to be true.
Liz Carlyle is an MI5 operative who’s just returned to work, fresh from leave after a botched anti terror operation in Paris. She’s back into the heady world of counter espionage and is working to unravel fresh evidence of immediate threats from Putin’s Russia. After the downing of the Malaysian passenger airline, a source in Ukraine has passed on information to the Americans that Russia is planting anti-Western spies intent on destabilising the British government.
Meanwhile, over at MI6 the authorities have decided it’s time to usher in a new age of openness at the traditionally secret organisation, especially in the light of public criticism in the era of Assange and Snowden. It’s upsetting some of the old boys at Six but when Kapoor is suggested for the job, she could be just the right fit.
As always with Rimington’s Liz Carlyle novels the action is fast-paced and suspenseful, with a race to the finish to seek out the imminent threat and quash it before it’s too late. This novel can be read standalone if you’re new to Rimington, then you’ll be sure to want to work your way backwards through others in the Carlyle series. Rimington vividly portrays the world of the intelligence services and particularly, without making a big deal of it, she portrays the role of women working in a traditionally male environment.
And who better placed for this, given that Rimington began her career in MI5 as a typist and worked her way up to be Director General? Long an admirer of thriller writers, including PD James and John le Carré, Rimington found space to write her own brand of spy thrillers only after she had retired from the service. No one else writing today can bring her in-depth insider knowledge of the intelligence game, combined with a sharp eye for contemporary world events. She really is a must-read.
Stella Rimington is often, inevitably, compared with the John le Carré. Unsurprising given both of their direct involvement with the intelligence agencies, but in fact Rimington’s involvement was more longstanding. She joined MI5 in 1968 and during her career she worked in all the main fields of the service: counter-subversion, counter-espionage and counter-terrorism. She was appointed Director General in 1992, the first woman to hold the post. She has written her autobiography and this is her ninth Liz Carlyle novel. She lives in London and Norfolk.