As a former head of MI5 turned best-selling spy author, Stella Rimington's life story seems straight from the pages of fiction. The play on fact and fantasy in her writing, however, is more than just a marketing hook, but part of her overall need to recast the playing field of the espionage world, both fictional and real.
The Geneva Trap is the seventh Liz Carlyle novel, this one premised on our lingering fears over whether a single incident could reignite the Cold War.
It begins in Geneva with an approach by a Russian agent, Alexander Sorsky, demanding to speak with Carlyle.
Back in London, her interest is piqued. Having only met Sorsky briefly at university, it is unclear what he wants - or how he knows she works for the service.
Meeting in Geneva, he tells her of an imminent threat. Russia is aware a mole has infiltrated a top-secret British-US military project. Fearing his country will be blamed, Sorsky asks Carlyle to find those responsible before all hell breaks loose. The ensuing hunt takes Carlyle and the team from the strange underbelly of Geneva to Nevada's secret military testing grounds and, eventually, the cosmopolitan hub of Marseilles, with many sinister figures unearthed as the puzzle falls into place.
As a writer, Rimington, who was in the service for 30 years, knows how to hold back. Though focusing on the procedural aspects of spying, she keeps the details light and generic, bringing a spook's touch to progressing the plot.
The result is a slick and punchy thriller that plays out to an enjoyably well-honed tune.
However, the series' longevity is likely down to its look at the human side of the spy service and (what is possibly closest to the truth) all the interdepartmental tensions and rivalries that take place during the daily life of a spy, particularly that of a woman. Hard-working and unpretentious, Carlyle represents the new face of the service.
Rimington's reasons for debunking the British super-spy myth may be personal - in her memoir, Open Secret, she says the old spy writers had done too good a job; no one could ever believe a middle-aged ''housewife'' was running MI5.
But just as the James Bond films show how the genre evolves over time, given a dose of reality - Judi Dench's M being modelled on Rimington herself - the Liz Carlyle books give the post-Bond world heroism crossed with realism, making smart and sensible just as sexy and appealing.