65) Ian Rankin — Watchman
An early one from Rankin, a standalone spy novel written between writing the first and second Rebus novels. As it’s the first book by Rankin I’ve read, I can’t say how it compares with his series or later work, but I found it an enjoyable read in its own right. It was written in 1988 and is very much a period piece, not least because the setting is London during an IRA bombing campaign. The titular Watchman is a member of MI5’s Watcher Service. His job is to do just that — watch people and note where they go, who they talk to and what they do. A watching brief goes wrong and someone is killed. Miles gets a large part of the blame, and a shift to a punishment operation. But there’s something slightly off about the scenario, and Miles suspects that there might be a mole. With retirements and promotions due in the upper ranks, the upper ranks don’t want a scandal, and Miles is offered a “last chance” assignment — in Belfast. It’s clearly intended to force him to resign quietly, but Miles is too stubborn. And so he finds himself tipped from his quiet role of professional voyeurism into a far more violent and dangerous game.
It’s definitely got the feel of an early work by a good writer. The characterisations are solid and the plot draws you in, but there were a couple of places where I had a major suspension of disbelief problem, and they were key elements of the plot. So a little disappointing part way through after a good start, but still a satisfying ending. Probably not a keeper for me, but I’m glad to have read it.