In her second novel, Stella Rimington, the first female director general of MI5 (Britain‘s Security Service), puts her extensive experience to use in creating a police procedural set in current times.
The story focuses on Liz Carlyle, who is recovering from her experiences in the first novel of the series, At Risk. Obviously trusted by her superior, Liz is asked to quietly examine the background of several MI5 members. An old contact from the conflict in Northern Ireland has implied there may be a mole planted deep in the MI5 organization, one that has never been activated. At the same time, MI5 is examining a possible terrorist plot on British soil. Agents begin grasping at sources only to watch them slip away before the crucial information is received. The story culminates in a surprising and abrupt ending.
The narrative shuffles the reader through the minds of many characters, one of the aspects of British mysteries I enjoy. Readers are able to see much of the background action happening. However, these scenes in Secret Asset tend to be a bit disjointed and scattered. Dialogue between Liz and her potential suspects is well-written, but between herself and her compatriots, stilted and slow. Although familiar with terms used in British mysteries, I was lost in the acronyms blithely dropped in conversations. This might not be an issue for readers in Great Britain but may well be for readers in the U.S.
The ending is unique, which is enjoyable in this day of predictability. Rimington avoids the temptation to avail herself of stereotypes; the characters she has created could very well have been real. While the dialogue may be empty at times, the character development (even of subsidiary characters) is well done. I believe the previous issues I mentioned will be erased as Rimington continues her career as an author. She definitely has potential and has created a character that can last through many stories.