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Watchman: A Novel

3.51  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,991 Ratings  ·  157 Reviews
From #1 international bestseller Ian Rankin, an unlucky spy gets one last chance at redemption.

Miles Flint is a spy who has been making some serious mistakes. His last assignment led to the death of a foreign official in London, and after getting too close to his current subject he wound up in police custody. But something is wrong at the agency that has nothing to do with
Kindle Edition, 272 pages
Published (first published 1988)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mark Rice
Years after writing this novel and The Flood, Ian Rankin created the Rebus books and became the UK's biggest-selling crime writer. In Scotland, he has become a cultural icon. I haven't read any of the Rebus novels, and so can't comment on them (other than saying the TV versions were excellent). I did read and enjoy The Flood last year; its settings and characters were vivid, authentic and inspired. Not so with Watchman, which features a clichéd plot involving secret agents, black budgets, vague ...more
This espionage novel is one of Ian Rankin's early books, written before he started the John Rebus detective series. In this story, Miles Flint is a British spy, a "watchman" who surveils individuals suspected of illegal/terorist activity in London. While watching an Arab suspect in a hotel lobby Flint gets distracted by a beautiful woman; the suspect - an assassin - gets away and kills an Israeli man.

Flint thinks the woman was sent purposely and starts to look into the incident. Soon afterward,
As a fan of both crime fiction and Scottish fiction, I've always been meaning to give Ian Rankin another go. Years ago, I read his first Rebus book, Knots and Crosses, didn't really care for it, and never returned to him. This republication of his 1988 espionage novel (his second book) caught my eye, so I thought I'd try him again. The story revolves around Miles Flint, a blandly unmemorable mid-level surveillance expert (aka "Watchman") for MI5 (Britain's rough equivalent to the FBI).

When the s
Angus Mcfarlane
Jun 26, 2016 Angus Mcfarlane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rankin without Rebus, his second novel as he tried to get established after the initial, somewhat disjointed detective effort. This one is a spy story, set in London, mostly, in the 80s, so it was still analog espionage - spooks without the flashy set changes and a Harry more connected to the Peers of the realm. At stake is the security of London as the IRA took its war offshore. It's easy to forget that the modern day terror, largely ascribed to radical Islam, is relatively new, and that simila ...more
Mike Gabor
Mar 23, 2014 Mike Gabor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bombs are exploding in the streets of London, but life seems to have planted more subtle booby-traps for Miles Flint. Miles is a spy. His job is to watch and to listen, then to report back to his superiors, nothing more. The job, affording glimpses into the most private lives of his victims, appeals to Miles. He doesn't lust after promotion, and he doesn't want action. He wants, just for once, not to botch a case. Having lost one suspect - with horrific consequences - Miles becomes too involved ...more
Jul 28, 2009 Trilby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, england, spy
This book surprised me; it's very, very well done, both by the writer and the reader. Rankin wrote it in 1988, and this audio version begins with Rankin describing how he wrote it as a newlywed--fast and obsessively. He notes how the world has changed since that time. For example, spies had no portable electronic mobile phones, no laptops. This makes spying easier in some ways, harder in others.
The title alludes to the main character's job as "watcher" for MI5. He prides himself on
May 10, 2012 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ian Rankin's second book, published in 1988 when he was fresh out of university and testing the direction his writing would take. This edition includes his introduction written in 2003 after he had re-read the book. He seems fairly pleased with it and offers some personal background to the writing of it, which I found interesting.

I enjoyed this spy story. There is a brooding, unsettled atmosphere in London and Ireland at the time of the IRA bombing campaign. The main character is Miles Flint, a
Feb 22, 2014 tiddle rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first book of Ian Rankin's earlier works (his second book?) that I read. It has the structure, potential and quiet spy shadows of John le Carré, though it falls short unfortunately. In the foreword, Rankin admits to some of its shortcoming on his own re-reading of its novel years later. A number of areas and plots feel half-baked, including character and plot development. There could have been so much more to it, in terms of more detailed looks and descriptions; instead, the author s ...more
Ron Smith
Sep 20, 2013 Ron Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An entertaining, fast-paced novel by the man behind Rebus. Even though it's pre-wireless and from the Cold War/IRA bombing era, The Watchman is not as dated as I feared it might be. That's what happens when you write a suspense novel focused on people. Even spies and cops are humans, as Rankin has so deftly demonstrated these many years.
Bookmarks Magazine

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 Carr

Feb 11, 2015 Dark-Draco rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gave-up-reading
I wouldn't say this is a 'bad' book - not really. But I stopped reading this a couple of days ago, when I was about half way through, to finish off something else. This morning, I was wondering what to read and to be honest, I couldn't be bothered to go back to it. If I don't have enough of a drive to find out what happens to Miles and his weird collection of so called spies, then I can't see that it's worth spending any more time on. A shame really, because on some level it was ok - not the mos ...more
Aug 08, 2015 Peggy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a pre-cell phone espionage novel set in London and Scotland and Ireland. Miles Flint is a spy - a "watchman". He observes and reports to his superiors at MI-5. He is an invisible man. He blends in and is not remarkable in any way. This is what makes him so good at his job. But when a surveillance goes horribly wrong Miles begins to question not only himself but his job. Fellow spies are going missing; Miles suspects they are dead. Then he is inexplicably sent to observe the arrest of an ...more
Mar 26, 2015 Frank rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
[library audiobook, plot summary elsewhere]

While commenting on another very recent Inspector Rebus novel, I remembered listening to this years ago, and liking it more than the Rebus series.

The book depicts the inner conflicts of the main character, the internal conflicts and duplicity of the British intelligence agencies, the corrosive effects of Britain's domination of Northern Ireland, the pain of a dissolving marriage and infidelity.

The virtue of a stand alone is that the main outcome of the
Anirudh Parthasarathy
Watchman is a novel written by the British crime novelist, Ian Rankin, famous for authoring the John Rebus series. This is his third novel, released in 1989. The book does not feature Ian Rankin's most famous character John Rebus but a similar character named Miles Flint. This novel is a stand alone as of now (and presumably, will remain one).

Miles Flint is a spy, working for the MI5. The story takes place in London (as far as I know, this is one of the two plots of Ian Rankin which takes place
Jan 30, 2013 Helen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's not really a mystery, more a spy/suspense/thriller. Unlike Rankin's later books it is set mostly in London with forays to Ireland, Edinburgh and the Dordogne. I find it easier to sympathise with Miles Flint than with Rebus, even though Miles is just as stumble footed as Rebus.In fact poor Miles is forever having someone reveal to him how transparent his ploys are to those around him. At the beginning he mentions that he always manages to drop a piece of cutlery in a restaurant so as to chec ...more
Ian Rankin's second novel, "Watchman" was written shortly after he graduated from university, and it shows both the promise of the writing that would catapult him to later fame and the callow state of his craft at the time.

Miles Flint is a surveillance operative for Britain's MI-5. A man once given to passion and even violence, his current life is marked most by his ability to blend into his surroundings. While a boon to his abilities as a watchman, unfortunately for Flint, this penchant for unr
Jan 29, 2008 Guy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tussendoor nog de tijd gevonden om Watchman (1988) van Ian Rankin te lezen. Het boek was meer dan vijftien jaar moeilijk te vinden (verkopers die beschikten over een origineel exemplaar deden naar verluid goede zaken op eBay), maar werd een paar jaar geleden opnieuw uitgebracht. Dat Rankin intussen zowat de bestverkopende detectiveschrijver van de UK is zal er ook wel voor iets tussenzitten. Hij schreef deze spionagethriller tussen zijn eerste twee Rebus-romans, en het is dan ook duidelijk dat h ...more
Oct 11, 2012 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I discovered an earlier Ian Rankin book 'Watchman ' ,that I had not read. His earlier works seem to have a touch of John LeCarre in them....not that that's bad ! 'Watchman ' is a nuanced English mystery filled with 'moles' operating within the Intelligence community. In the eighties, when this was written, England was not only interested in international intrigue but also terror attacks by the IRA.
Miles Flint finds himself immersed in this mixed intrigue, when an Israeli is murdered on his watc
Sundarraj Kaushik
Another of Ian Rankin classic. Not Rebus this time. The book is based on the exploits of an unheroic hero, Miles Flint, who works in the Secret Service. Miles has been a passive observer for most of his life. Now faced with a crumbling marriage he spends as much time as possible watching. In the process he bungles when watching an Arab and this leads to the killing of an Israeli middleman by the Arab. The books is based around the time IRA was active in England and had launched several bomb atta ...more
Jules Jones
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 ...more
Jun 29, 2008 Cyril rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had never heard of Ian Rankin before, but found this book prominently displayed in the bookstore under "New Releases" in mystery. The book is not really a new release, nor is it a mystery. It was initially released in 1988 but the first American release was in 2007. This review is like a euology for a person dead twenty years.

The novel is a spy thriller that takes place in the UK in the era of IRA bombings and prior to cell phones and ubiquitous video surveillance. The central character is Mi
Philip Booth
Enjoyable, reasonably well plotted spy novel from crime writer Rankin -- one of his earliest books, published in 1988. Yes, a page turner, and good evocations of locations in London (St. John's Wood) , a rural area near Belfast, and Edinburgh. Characterizations aren't exactly complex, though, and the female characters, in particularly, are not exactly multi dimensional. I don't read many spy novels, though, so not sure how this one stands up next to others in the genre.
Dec 03, 2008 Am rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I could have gone with 2 stars, but if anyone who wasn't already a Rankin fan read this, they probably wouldn't become one/touch his books again, and if anyone who already was read it, they'd know that the books he wrote later would be better. So. There's this 'spy' and he gets involved in some stuff, accidentally, because he doesn't want to go home to his wife, who knows he's a spy, but he doesn't know she knows. And then. Things happen and they don't make much sense. He gets sent to Ireland. A ...more
Dec 21, 2012 Ruth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I nearly gave it just two stars, as I found it did not give enough information to draw the reader into the plot and seemed amateur in consequence. In thrillers, I think the reader has to get close enough to the twists and turns to be able to puzzle them out without it being too easy. In this plot everything was mystery, and I didn't care enough to get frustrated. All is revealed in the end.

The reason I gave it that extra star was for the touch of brilliance in the writing, the occasional quirky
Jun 19, 2014 Mike rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is an early Rankin effort and it showed; i think he pretty much accepts this himself nowadays in retrospect. The plot is tangled and not convincing, the ending rushed and some of the plot development is tissue-thin and over-reliant on coincidence. It's as though Rankin watched a couple of James bond films, read a little bit of Le Carre and then spent a couple of days churning this out.
This is not to denigrate from his overall body of work, as his Rebus novels are a world apart.
Colin Mitchell
Miles Flint is a "Watcher" with MI5 but his missions, involving the IRA, keep going wrong at the last moment and he is suspicious of a mole. He thinks his wife is unfaithful with a collegue. He is then mysteriously sent to Northern Ireland on a mission. Is this the end for him or will he find the mole. Ian Rankin's novel is short and moves quickly and is easy to read if a little far fetched in places.
CJ Bowen
Quite passable early spy novel from Rankin before Rebus was big. Drew several names from other sources that rather cheapened the experience. I appreciated a spy story with a net positive effect on a marriage, though. An excellent providential turn from Mrs. Nightingale was not unbelievable, merely extremely unlikely, which I liked. I'm glad Rankin's attention went to Rebus instead of Flint.
Fee A
May 22, 2014 Fee A rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really want to like Ian Rankin. This is my second book by him and it is one of his earlier works so I guess I should be reading more of his books before putting too much judgement. Watchman is an engaging book but I think spy and conspiracy novels are not for me. Rankin is an excellent writer and I love how he compared beetles to the characters in this novel. I'm rating this book three stars because I didn't hate it (so I guess I must be liking it).

May 11, 2011 L rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
Here's an image. One of the, what, agents?, is composing a computer game on "firm" time (so to speak). All he has to do is finish the game, sell it, and he can get out. So he has a nightmare. He's inside the game. And, horror of horrors, some fool is playing it--making the typical mistakes that a player would make. The poor guy is so screwed!

Ok, that was just a glimpse into Rankin's mind & how it works. This is a spy story, which is just not my thing at all. I would have just passed over it,
Jemsparkle bibliophile
As his initial attempts at writing it was an enjoyable book, good enough to kill time, certain bits seemed clichéd but the twist was unexpected and the characters carried an aura of mystery which the author didn't fully disclose but I suppose that's what life in espionage is like. It didn't disappoint and that's good enough for me.
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AKA Jack Harvey.

Born in the Kingdom of Fife in 1960, Ian Rankin graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1982 and then spent three years writing novels when he was supposed to be working towards a PhD in Scottish Literature. His first Rebus novel was published in 1987; the Rebus books are now translated into 22 languages and are bestsellers on several continents.

Ian Rankin has been elected a
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