Those pesky Russians, who just don’t know when to quit, are at it again in this sedate 10th adventure for Liz Carlyle.
Whatever changed when Liz moved from MI5 to MI6 (Breaking Cover, 2016), it wasn’t the activity level of the FSB, the Russian intelligence service. According to Mischa Bebchuk, the army officer–turned–CIA informant, his brother Boris, an FSB officer, is even more anxious than usual because there are rumors of a leak close to the service, something Mischa naturally knows more about than anyone else. What does this wave of anxiety have to do with Lars Petersen, a University of Vermont professor who died shortly after an unusually chatty (and hushed) visit from somebody signing the hospice register as Ohlson, a self-professed old friend from Montreal who was the first person who’d ever come to see him? The link may run through Hamburg’s Freitang School, a gymnasium for immigrant children whose head, Irma Nimitz, seems to be preparing her charges for something her husband, Dieter, who’s with the European Commission for Refugees, thinks may be more than a little iffy—his fears echoing those of Florence Girling, an assistant at Bartholomew Manor College back in Shropshire. Sadly, Ohlson soon vanishes from the story; Dieter spends most of his time fretting; Boris remains offstage; Irma remains in the shadows; and Liz’s most decisive intervention is to get caught snooping around the headmaster’s office at Bartholomew Manor. Amid the general lassitude, only Miss Girling flickers to unsteady life as Her Majesty’s counterintelligence services mostly stand by and watch as a clever cyberterrorist plot trips over its own feet rather than being brought down by their efforts.
Proof, if any were needed by now, that Rimington is better at worldbuilding than storytelling. The threat is real, the bureaucratic infighting sharply detailed, the tradecraft circumspect. The only thing left shortchanged is the plot.