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3.53  ·  Rating details ·  3,113 ratings  ·  249 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 254 pages
Published January 16th 1990 by Orion (first published 1988)
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Average rating 3.53  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,113 ratings  ·  249 reviews

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Mar 01, 2014 rated it liked it

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/terrorist 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
Jul 16, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: scottish-authors
This was just so so. Not, altogether, a bad read but not one to wax lyrical about.
The main protagonist, Miles Flint, was so forgettable. A man shaped by his work, he is a spy. He is secretive, anti social and lacking any ambition. His marriage is just that, a marriage. He does his thing and she does hers and ne’er the twain shall meet.

There is something rotten in the Firm, MI6, and someone wants Miles dead. By the time Miles wakes up to himself and realises that if he is to survive he needs to t
Mark Rice
Feb 04, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book, published in 1988, was refreshed with a Prologue presenting the author's recollections of writing this book. It serves as a very good appetizer.
I enjoyed this book very much because it pitches a mild mannered British surveillance man into the middle of a complex dirty tricks plan hatched by the upper echelons of MI6 (or 5, or whatever..not sure) in cooperation with intelligence agencies of other countries including CIA. London is being plagued with bombings carried out by IRA operativ
Apr 05, 2020 rated it liked it
In a London where bombs are going off in the streets, mostly laid back spy (yes, I said spy) Miles Flint wants one thing - not to mess up his next case. His life is on the edge, failing at work and in his marriage, can his next case in Belfast be his redemption? A really good espionage thriller; an interwoven and highly 'twisted' tale set within the UK's MI5. 6 out of 12
Oct 14, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: thriller, spy
I've enjoyed reading Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus books very much. I'm well in to that series. Watchman was Rankin's 3rd novel, written after the first of his Rebus books. It's quite different from the Rebus books; in fact, it's more in line with early John le Carre than what you expect from Rankin.
Miles Flint (from the intro, Rankin borrowed the name from the In Like Flint movie series starring James Coburn) is a Watchman, working for the British Secret Service. Having issues with his marriage
Jul 26, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Feb 09, 2013 rated it did not like it
Not his best work. In fact, possibly his worst. 0 of 10 stars.
Oct 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Early Rankin, so a little rough in places esp. in terms of pacing, but I actually liked that, and it was refreshing to not be dealing with the now heavily-produced maudlin feeling of Rebus.

Best read as an enjoyable spy thriller, you can almost see the screenplay ;)
Feb 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting early book written by Ian Rankin that he was planning during his honeymoon! At first moving along quite gently and you are trying to work out who is behind things and why, but when it moves to Northern Ireland and Ireland it really takes off, grabs you by the threat and doesn't let you go until the end. Also one or two good links in the book to the Rebus series. Very glad I read it, and I think he would write some more espionage books. ...more
Amanda Patterson
Interesting novel - No Rebus. Still well worth reading.
Jul 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, spy, england
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
Angus Mcfarlane
Jun 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, thriller
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
Mar 01, 2012 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
Sep 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
As I am truly a Rankin fan I wanted to read this book. Despite finding the numerous characters a bit hard to follow in the beginning and being a bit frustrsted by this, in true Ian Rankin style everyone finally took their places as the scene was set and the action began. I liked how all the questions were answered leaving no character dangling. Quite fond of Miles and liked that the writer made all the players real from Sheila, Stevens to Collins...I even felt I understood various motivations an ...more
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. ...more
Ron Smith
Sep 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
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

Colette Flaherty
Aug 29, 2013 rated it did not like it
Just couldn't get into it and didn't engage with any of the characters. ...more
Wendy Greene
Jan 01, 2015 rated it did not like it
Confusing, poorly fleshed out characters, perhaps it inspired Tarantino's film, Reservoir Dogs. Rankin certainly has improved immensely since this first novel. ...more
Deborah Mitton
Oct 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The trouble with being an avid reader for 50+ years you forget some of the earlier works you read. This was an excellent read at the time.
Avishek Chatterjee
Jan 03, 2021 rated it liked it
“The new religion is coercion.”

What is trust? Is it a constant endeavor built on experience and people? Or is it limited to your own mind?

Sometimes, the only person you can trust is yourself – and that is also suspect.

Miles Flint is a spy. And in his world, trust is a luxury one cannot afford. A chance volunteer mission leads to a devastating loss as he loses a high-profile target who ends up in political murder that leaves the secret service rushing to cover up the aftermath.

But Miles doesn’t g
Jennifer Pletcher
Dec 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
My husband and I have been watching Watchmen on TV over the last few weeks, and he encouraged me to check the "backstory" and read this graphic novel.

This graphic novel takes place from the 1930s all the way until the 1980s. Vigilantes mixed with one real life superhero are helping to protect. There has been a family tragedy and a scientific accident. There are masked vigilantes trying to do good, but someone is picking them off one by one. The world is on the verge of World War III. Can one man
Greg Strom
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shane Harrison
Nov 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Rankin takes an early break from Rebus with a spook story set in London, with a sojourn in Northern Ireland and a brief trip to Edinburgh. Miles Flint is the central character whose diffident if comfortable life as a 'watchman' is derailed when he's given the slip by an assassin and a Mossad operative winds up dead. Flint finds himself in a murky stew of double crosses, double agents and an ever looming likelihood of imminent death.The twists and turns of plot, and the shifting scenarios are con ...more
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's 1988 and London suffering a rash of bombings by the IRA. Miles Flint is an "invisible" man kind of British spy. He observes the actors and reports back to HQ. But when he decides to stick his nose in a colleague's surveillance, things go off the rails and Miles begins to smell a rat. Looking into the activities of his fellow-spies is frowned upon and so Miles' superiors send him off to Northern Ireland, supposedly to witness an arrest of an IRA cell. But their motives are much darker and of ...more
Feb 19, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a stand-alone written in between the first two Rebus books.

Based around the time of the IRA London bombings, the Watchmen are the spies who observe suspects and report back to their superiors. Led by Miles Flint who has bungled yet another operation, and now his bosses want him out of the way. Sent to Belfast to observe
the arrest of two known terrorists, this operation also goes dreadfully wrong, and Flint finds himself on the run with one of them.

A good story but I found it hard to kee
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime, espionage
When I first picked up this book I thought it was another Rebus book by Rankin. It isn't. Its main character is Mike Flint who works for MI5 as a watcher. His job is to watch suspected spies or, as in this case, IRA terrorists. He's not dashing like James Bond; he's rather ordinary and unobtrusive. His wife becomes frustrated with his ordinariness and lack of connection to her. On the job, he is content to watch and report back what he observes. What he doesn't want is to become part of the acti ...more
In a way, readers of spy fiction should be grateful to Kim Philby and company, for virtually everyone that’s taken on a spy novel involving the British Secret Service in the last 70 years or more has had that turned/bad/disloyal figure near the top of the administration as a focal point for the narrative. Rankin’s early spy novel is no exception to that general rule. The protagonist’s obsession with beetles may go on just a little too much, although it is nicely rounded off in the final pages. O ...more
Feb 04, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished
I was given this book by a friend to read and I found it ok but I did not enjoy it as much as the Rebus books . It is an earlier book by Rankin and this edition was reprinted in 2004 with an introduction which was a good explanation which I re read at the end of the novel . Set in London the main character Miles Flint also had a trip to Belfast but I think I missed the story being set in Scotland, that's where Ian Rankin really shines. However I have to say the trip to Ireland added some grit to ...more
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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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