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Stella Rimington

Author of At Risk

15+ Works 2,900 Members 124 Reviews 2 Favorited

About the Author

Image credit: Jamie Hughes


Works by Stella Rimington

At Risk (2004) 755 copies
Secret Asset (2006) 412 copies
Illegal Action (2007) 315 copies
Dead Line (2008) 239 copies
The Geneva Trap (2012) 234 copies
Present Danger (2009) 179 copies
Rip Tide (2011) 166 copies
Close Call (2014) 141 copies
Breaking Cover (2016) 118 copies
The Moscow Sleepers (2018) 110 copies
The Devil's Bargain (2022) 23 copies
Cifte Kiskac (2020) 1 copy

Associated Works


2016 (13) action/adventure (11) autobiography (30) biography (26) British (24) crime (63) crime fiction (19) ebook (38) England (38) epub (11) espionage (175) fiction (295) goodreads (17) hardcover (14) intelligence (11) jw (11) Kindle (51) Kindle Store (11) library (19) Liz Carlyle (65) London (21) MI5 (120) MI6 (20) murder (17) mystery (62) mystery-thriller (14) mystery/detective/espionage (11) non-fiction (18) novel (52) read (41) Russia (12) series (28) spy (121) spy fiction (55) spy thriller (16) suspense (20) terrorism (39) thriller (150) to-read (108) UK (36)

Common Knowledge

Other names
Whitehouse, Stella
South London, England, UK
Places of residence
Barrow-in-Furness, England, UK
Wallasey, Merseyside, England, UK
Ilkeston, Debyshire, UK
Paris, France
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Worchester, UK (show all 7)
New Delhi, India
Nottingham High School
University of Edinburgh
University of Liverpool
Director General of MI5
Rimington, John (husband)
Awards and honors
Order of the Bath (Dame Commander, 1995)
Short biography
Stella Rimington, née Whitehouse, was born in South London, England. Her father got a job as chief draughtsman at a steel works in Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria during World War II, and the family moved there. In her autobiography, she described living through the Barrow Blitz as a small child, and becoming claustrophobic into adulthood, needing an exit route from any situation. When her father later got a job in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, the family moved to the Midlands, where Stella attended Nottingham High School for Girls. She spent the summer working as an au pair in Paris before enrolling at the University of Edinburgh in 1954 to study English. After completing her degree in 1958, she studied archive administration at the University of Liverpool, before becoming an archivist at the County Record Office in Worcester. In 1963, she married John Rimington and moved to London, where she joined the India Office Library.

In 1965, she accompanied her husband to a posting as First Secretary (Economic) for the British High Commission in New Delhi, India. Two years later, she was asked to assist one of the other First Secretaries at the High Commission with his office work. She agreed, and when she began, discovered that he was the representative in India of the British Security Service (MI5). Gaining her security clearance, Stella Rimington worked in the MI5 office until she and her husband returned to London in 1969, where she decided to apply for a permanent position at MI5.

Between 1969 and 1990, Rimington worked in all three branches of the Security Service: counter-espionage, counter-subversion, and counter-terrorism. In 1990, she was promoted to one of the Service's two Deputy Director General positions, where she oversaw MI5's move to Thames House. In 1991, she was promoted to Director General. She was the first female DG of MI5, and the first DG whose name was publicized. She oversaw a public relations campaign to improve the openness of the Service and increase public transparency. On 16 July 1993, MI5 (with the reluctant approval of the British Government) published a 36-page booklet titled The Security Service, which revealed publicly, for the first time, details of MI5's activities as well as the identity and even photographs of Rimington as Director General. She retired from MI5 in 1996 and was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the Bath (DCB) that year.

Rimington published her autobiography, Open Secret, in 2001. In 2004, her first novel, At Risk, about a female intelligence officer, was published; it became the first in a series of novels. She served as chair of the judges for the 2011 Man Booker Prize.



I enjoy these novels by a former head of MI5, Britain's Secret Service, and this one was especially well-written. Stella Rimington knows whereof she writes.
RickGeissal | 6 other reviews | Aug 16, 2023 |
Always an intriguing admission by an author: that another person helped with the writing. One never knows entirely and exactly what that means. For what it is worth, in the case of the 2005 novel “At Risk,” the nominal author, Stella Rimington, was helped by Luke Jennings, author of the popular “Killing Eve” series.

Often, despite such a disclaimer, the nominal author does take some part in the writing and the plotting. “At Risk” is about a case handled by counterintelligence officer Liz Carlyle over the course of a few harrowing days. Rimington knows the world of counterintelligence inside out, having been a member of Britain’s MI5 for 27 years, ending her career there with four years as director general – as the head of this counterspy group. So I tend to believe her when she claims to have created the story told here.

A note to the uninitiated or just those who keep forgetting the difference between MI5 and MI6: Think of concentric rings laid over a map of the United Kingdom with a numeral “1” in the center of the Isle of Britain. Imagine the numerals going up to “5,” covering the English Channel and Northern Ireland. Now Imagine ring number “6” extending beyond the U.K.’s national boundaries and covering the rest of the world. That is the difference in jurisdiction between MI5 (close to home) and MI6 (everything outside of the U.K.).

There are, in practically every country, rivalries between intelligence agencies. Lawmakers and chief executives keep telling the agencies that they need to cooperate, but they continue to keep their own council anyway. (My impression is that Homeland Security, the agency created by law in the United States to coordinate between all the preexisting intelligence gathering agencies, backfired in that not only do agencies still keep intelligence from each other, but Homeland is one of the worst offenders as it lords it over and withholds from the other agencies instead of setting a collegial example of sharing.)

In the U.S., the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which was founded as an enforcer of federal law and policer of interstate crime, also has a counterintelligence division. This division is comparable to and a sort of counterpart of the UK’s MI5, while the Central Intelligence Agency is pretty much equivalent to the U.K.'s MI6. Other books I have read point to the parallels in relations between each country's domestic and foreign intelligence services, and one similarity is that they don’t trust each other. That is more or less what is going on in this novel, telegraphed early on during a meeting between MI5 and MI6 in which they share information, but there is, ever after, a sense that each might be holding some things back.

Aside: At the end of the novel, we learn that the same rivalry occurs in Pakistan where the Interior Ministry’s Intelligence Bureau does not get along with the Defense Ministry’s Inter-Services Intelligence group.

All of this bad faith between the right hand and the left within the same government, is backdrop to a case of what initially looks like international terrorism visited on Britain’s shores by two mysterious figures, a Englishwoman who enters the country from France and a Pakistani man who is smuggled into the country via a channel that was previously used to bring drugs from Germany to the eastern coast of England and is now being used to convey illegal immigrants, including prostitutes, laborers and, in this case, “specials” who pay premium dollar (I should say pound) for round-trip service.

Things rapidly go wrong when one of the smugglers on the British end decides to rob the special passenger of his heavy and presumably valuable knapsack (er, “rucksack” as the British prefer to say), but the Pakistani has a gun, and he uses it to blow the smuggler’s head off. This being England, the authorities take particular notice of murders committed with firearms. As Liz later notes, the terrorists’ operation was so carefully planned that it probably would have remained under the radar if only the smuggler had not been so greedy and his “special” passenger not so quick to kill him.

With a few short exceptions, the point of view goes back and forth between Liz’s viewpoint and that of “Lucy” (not her real name), the British confederate of the Pakistani man, Faraj. The two women are on opposite sides, one trying to arrest the other, the other trying to avoid being arrested before she and Faraj can complete their mission.

What is their mission? That seems to be for Faraj to know and for Liz to figure out. She and her colleagues collect information by the various means at their disposal, but they are constantly frustrated by how much they cannot detect, and it turns out in the end that there are crucial pieces they are not sharing with each other. (Local law enforcement also resents national law enforcement for not sharing everything in a timely manner – that turns out to be just as true in the U.K. as it is in the U.S.A.)

Faraj knows more than he is telling Lucy, too, but it turns out in the end that Lucy knows, all along, something about their target that she is not telling us. (Faraj must know it, too, so there is never any need to state it.) One false note is that Lucy tells Faraj that she knows that they are being pursued by a female officer, but she never reveals how she knows this. Are we to believe that it is woman’s intuition?

Speaking of what is known to the characters, phrases like “as you well know” turn up at least four times and possibly more. This is a timeworn way to introduce exposition to the reader even though the speaker knows very well that the other characters do not need the information explained to them. All writers should try to avoid this cliche.

But this is an entertaining and diverting read. There is excitement and intrigue – at least at intervals. The plot is more rewarding and the conclusion more satisfying than in some other stories I have encountered lately. Several of the characters are on their own journeys. They change, their relationships with others sometimes deepen, although the effect of the changes are not always beneficial or fully comprehensible (sometimes they are inconclusive and could be meant to be resolved in a sequel, which I gather may already have been published), but that does not mean that these changes are not evocative of human nature, which is a mystery that one cannot always fathom in life or in fiction. Is it consistent? That is the only expectation that must be met. Here it is consistent, more or less.

The language of “At Risk” is quite British. British English is famously different from its American counterpart. Spelling (“characterise” instead of the American spelling “characterize” and “tyres” instead of “tires”), alternative vocabulary (“knackered” for “worn out,” “windscreen” in place of our “windshield” and “tip” instead of “dump”), and often subtle but slightly jarring differences in grammar. For instance, British and American English favor different choices of verbal phrases and a different conjugation of verbs with collective nouns: “The organisation send” (British) instead of “The organization sends” (American). It is a matter of conceiving of the organization as a group of people (“they send”) versus the organization as a single entity or unit (“it sends”).

British English is fully on display throughout this novel, more so than usual, I feel. Start with the title, "At Risk," which is a more British way of saying "In Danger."

Or take a couple of sentences from the last two pages:
“Six [i.e., the spy agency MI6] spend rather less time talking to the Intelligence Bureau….” (Instead of "Six spends rather less time....")
“Much better to keep stumm….” ("Stumm" is similar in meaning to "mum" as in “mums the word.”)

I made the mistake of not keeping my “British English Dictionary” close at hand as I read, so I had to guess at what some words meant or else skip them.
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MilesFowler | 27 other reviews | Jul 16, 2023 |
An average thriller with somewhat shallow characters and a predictable outcome. Two invisibles have entered the UK, and they have a target in mind, destruction to be delivered in the form of a curde bomb. M15 Intelligence officer Liz Carlyle together with a motley crew of army officers and super smooth Bruno MaCay, Mi6's finest race against time to stop the predicted carnage. If you enjoy cheap thrills at the expense of character driven stories, then do read, however.....For those of you in the cheap seats I'd like ya to clap your hands to this one; the rest of you can just rattle your jewelry!'
A little irrelevant quote for you to enjoy (thank you JL :) which neatly closes a review lamenting the time I have wasted reading this indigestible fodder!
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runner56 | 27 other reviews | Dec 15, 2022 |
I enjoyed this book, and rate it perhaps slightly less than 4 stars but more than 3. It was pretty interesting all the way, and the ending made sense. Unless I missed something, there was one character introduced early on, a young man working with Liz that she worried about, who never was brought up again, so I'm not sure why we were even introduced to him. Maybe I missed something, or maybe he'll pop up in a later book. I'll probably try another in the series, since this was only the first but was pretty good.… (more)
MartyFried | 27 other reviews | Oct 9, 2022 |



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