Tuesday, 17 April 2012


While watching the BBC's The Review Show, I heard a very good presentation of one of the latest of Ian Rankin's books, The Impossible Dead, and what caught my attention was the comment that this, all with all other of his books was a "page turner".  I'm not usually influenced by such reviews, but something must have made an impression, because, some time later during a book festival, I managed to get Watchman, one of Rankin's first novels.

I was not disappointed.  In the introduction to the book, the author provides ample information as to his difficulties in those early days to make it in the literary world, and how he managed to pull through.  In researching for this book, of the spy genre, he recalls the advice given that the book be as realistic as possible - not stories that exaggerate the "glamour" of the spy. I couldn't have said it better myself.  The overall tone of the book is slightly cynical - as I imagine the security service would be in real life, which made the story all the more believable.

There is no great drama - just a fairly realistic day-to-day job that the main character, Miles Flint, has to go through - the internal intrigues of the service, the personal disappointment - things that we can all associate with.  He works a lot to avoid facing the real drama in his life - his wife, with whom he has practically no contact anymore.  One of the most distinguishable traits of this character is his obsession with all types of bugs- what an ingenious idea!  Other than some very specific cases in primary school, I honestly can't remember anyone around me having such an interest - yes, my first reaction would also be wow, how boring! but once I got into the subject matter, it's actually pretty amazing and interesting!  Picture this: "the security services were running around like so many ants in a glass case" - crystal clear what the author means!  Rankin manages to insert tiny details that play a minimal role to the overall story, but which contribute to its authenticity.  In such a case, Miles' son gives him an adoption certificate for a zoo pet as a present.  I did exactly the same for my mother some years ago and reading this put a smile on my face - I found it so brilliant!

Miles then, is a watchman - he watches people in situations and then informs.  When a routine stake-out goes wrong, his world collapses:  he is the one now being watched and he realises that things will no longer be the same - he is exposed.  When he realises that this minor incident actually part of a larger operation is, he is the hunted:  he grasps the last chance given and goes to Belfast, where he fears he will be asked to do -not just watch! The tables are turned and he becomes the hunter, and manages to come out gloriously (well, almost).

Together with a well-written series of events, Rankin also makes comments that - for me at least - provide food for thought:  journalism nowadays: "why bother?  why try to tell the truth when the truth isn't wanted anymore", disturbing thoughts on the use of terrorism (about IRA): "who wants them to stop? it's the best training ground Britain's got. NATO's learned a lot from our experiences, medicine's learned how to treat skin burns more efficiently", and some thoughts on life in general: "if there is game, or even a game within a game, there must be a way out. All we have to do is keep on playing"...

As with most of the books of this genre, there are more twists in the story that imaginable.  Still, the innovative aspect in this book was that even towards the end, when all elements are slowly being revealed, I was caught unaware several times (and I'm a master in deciphering difficult cases...).  This book is really a tiny gem among Rankin's works!

Also read for the Mystery & Suspense Challenge


  1. I don't read much suspense and have never read Ian Rankin - though I see his books everywhere so they must be good!

    1. I also have to admit don't read much of this genre - that's why I try, from time to time, to step outside my comfort zone...

  2. Such a wonderful, thorough and interesting blog post. I would like to check this out as I've heard a lot of things about it. :)

    New to your blog!
    Stephanie @ Stepping Out of the Page




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