three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
33-Mar-Apr-2008
By: 
Ian Rankin
user_rating: 
0

A-WatchmanIn 1988, just after his first Inspector Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses (1987), Ian Rankin invented another character who never took off in quite the same way. A cynical spy who has been with the British intelligence for 20 years, Miles Flint, a Scot like Rebus but just a little sunnier, is in a bit of a fix after having made some terrible mistakes. When a beautiful female decoy distracts him, he blows a surveillance operation and allows an Arab assassin to escape, perhaps in response to a tip from one of his own. Soon, Flint finds himself contending with shady characters, the IRA in Belfast, and the British government—not to mention a difficult wife.
Little, Brown. 272 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 031600913X

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"There is a coltish enthusiasm in this novel that showcases Rankin’s already highly developed sense of timing. It’s worthy of sharing shelf space with the works of British spy novelists John le Carré and Ken Follett." Carol Memmott

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"While Watchman is not up to the Rebus standard for curmudgeonly appeal, it is of at least academic interest to anyone wondering what it takes to make a winner. … Had he relied more confidently on Flint’s character development and not thrown in so many conspiratorial twists and secondary figures, Mr. Rankin would have come closer to his latter-day storytelling ease." Janet Maslin

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"Despite the uncharacteristic cinematic style—all jump cuts, tight frames and compressed action—the novel has plenty of Rankin-worthy touches. … While Flint is more a fingernail-biter than an obsessive brooder like Rebus, he has a cynical worldview and a sense of humor that reveals itself in a quirky hobby: he studies beetles, amusing himself by attributing their properties to the people he knows." Marilyn Stasio

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"In fact, one of the book’s endearing qualities is seeing Rankin desperately attempting to reel in his quirks from the hard and choppy waters of espionage. But he can’t. … This is clearly a writer still struggling to find his voice." Edward Champion

Critical Summary

Before he became known for his Inspector Rebus series, Ian Rankin was a newly married writer trying his hand at spy novels. Watchman reveals a master at the start of his game. Inspired by John le Carré and Graham Greene, Rankin’s espionage novel is strong on enthusiasm, timing, and plot. Critics attribute its imprecise dialogue and characterizations to an inexperienced, albeit talented, writer. "The coolly analytical Flint was ditched after his first assignment. Now was that fair?" asks The New York Times Book Review, reflecting general sentiment that Watchman is pretty good, just not as good as the Rebus series. "Maybe not, if you happen to like dull but honorable Graham Greene-like spies who find themselves struggling to maintain their equilibrium in a society imploding from violent civil unrest."