Reviewed by Diane Snyder
He’s a watcher. He’s a listener and he is good at what he does –”trained to near perfection in his art.”
Miles Flint is a spy for MI5 in London. He doesn’t use a gun. He uses things such as pens – one that can covertly pick up conversations several feet away. It is 1988, computers are not yet the norm and no one has a cell phone. Miles belongs to the group known as the Watchmen for that is what they do. They do surveillance and make reports. Miles has been doing it for many years, but there has been a shift in his life, both at work and at home with his marriage. Known among his peers as the Invisible Man because he can make himself seem to disappear by appearing innocuous as possible–an attribute Miles has always seen as an asset in his work–but he has suddenly become noticed, and not in a good way.
His latest assignment has gone all wrong and someone was murdered – someone he was supposed to be watching. Miles is suspicious of a mole in MI5 but when he begins to look at the others including his wife, he finds he is also under suspicion. Now the Watcher is being watched.
First published in Great Britain in 1988, this is not your typical spy story of great gadgets and suave agents. It is much more realistic as the characters are aging, petty, paranoid and destructible. The author’s ability to portray deep and complex characters tsets this book apart from other spy novels. Watchmen has an edginess that depends less on the problem presented and more on the action and interaction of the characters. It’s a rush to follow Miles as he pulls himself out of his comfort zone to become a high-wired manipulator and a hero where it counts the most – to himself and his wife.
As intricate and devious as the plot is, Rankin has a good grasp on his story and smoothly guides you through to the end – which is, of course, unpredictable.
Armchair Interviews says: If you like Ian Rankin and you like spy novels, this is a must-read. They just don’t get much better.