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Watchman   by Ian Rankin

Read: 2004-10-20 Reviewed: 2004-10-23
Re-read factor:

A reissue of an early Rankin spy novel. Surprisingly Ian tries and manages with some success to convey a sense of atmosphere in this book, as well as demonstrating his skill at developing characters although not on a par with his later works. The text scans at a very steady pace throughout, which tends to make things unexciting. Unfortunately the biggest fault is the plot which is not quite right and hinges on a ridiculous coincidence.

An MI5 watcher is suspected by his boss of getting close to the truth that he (the boss) had a man executed on a whim, and now the boss wants to get rid of the watcher and the original executer. The watcher is sent to Ireland ostensibly to witness an arrest, but finds himself about to be executed, alongside the man who carried out the original execution. After a struggle they manage to escape, and the two enemies start marching each other around with a gun in the back.

First the Irishman has the watcher under control, and takes him to a part of Ireland by the sea. Coincidentally, the bus load of tourists with whom the watcher came across to the country turn up, not only in exactly the right place but also at exactly the right time. The watcher uses the unexpected turn of events to his advantage and becomes the one holding the gun. They sail back to England, where the watcher engineers a showdown with his bosses, in his home town of Edinburgh.

The climax of the book occurs in the last three pages. Just before, there is a strange scene where the two rogues climb to the top of a tall monument, and just as one is about to push the other off (why did they go up there in the first place?)... a journalist turns up who has been tracking them down.

In the end, the Irishman is given the gun back and uses it to kill the big boss, and then he escapes to a life in the underworld.

In summary, the plot's a bit silly and coincidental, the prose is slow, the characters although interesting are not the sort you'd meet in the real world - not a good Rankin book by his, or any other, current standards.

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