Gem to treasure in holidays

With the season of cheer upon us, there'll be lots to do. But some fun will come from doing absolutely nothing and curling up on the sofa with a good book.

I've already started that by dusting off a book I received in September 2006, a bestseller at the time. It is a typical cheerful read, very light and doesn't require a lot of thinking.

If Rimington is a former head of MI5, the British security service, then I guess she writes with the same degree of authority as John Grisham does with legal thrillers and Robin Cook lends to medicine. The added bonus is that her flowing written language is the original Queen's English, not American.

This is a story of lies and deceit in the world of espionage. Would spies ever exist without this double life?

A group of young impressionable Islamists is meeting regularly at a bookshop in Haringey and, according to MI5's informant, an Asian university student Sohail Din, the unit is planning a terrorist attack in England - planting a bomb at Oxford University to go off during an important academic gathering as the chancellor's procession walks past a certain point.

Liz Carlyle, who is in her second Rimington novel, is a MI5 operative who handles Sohail, whose underground name is Marzipan.

Marzipan is cruelly killed by the group when they find out he's been selling out on them. This shatters Carlyle, who had become very close to the young Asian, who had skipped a year at university to help the British authorities fight terrorism.

The group is always one step ahead of the police. There can be no other explanation except that someone inside the group, the Secret Asset of the title, feeds them information so they are always able to evade arrest.

As is the nature of spy novels, The Englishman - the only name known to the Islamic group about the identity of their ringleader - turns out to be the most unlikely person. Tom Dartmouth is a hard worker, a decorated MI5 staffer who returned to Britain after a posting in Afghanistan.

But he's a man on a mission - to make the British pay for the dishonour they brought to bear on his father. The older Dartmouth was a journalist based in America. He committed suicide when it turned out that the top secret stories he'd been writing were lies fed to him by the British.

By exploding a bomb in Oxford, the symbol of British authoritarianism according to Dartmouth, he'd have fully avenged his father's death.

But, the disaster is averted. Dartmouth falls to his death as he tries to flee arrest by his colleagues. What else would you expect from such a plot?

Nice little read.

Like I did, find a gem you haven't read. There are just too many days of the holidays to waste the chance.