An early, Rebus-less spy thriller from Rankin (The Naming of the Dead, 2007, etc.), published for the first time in the United States.
Miles Flint, a weary, aging dogsbody in MI5’s surveillance-and-report unit (the “Watcher” service), decides to tag along and help tail “Latchkey,” an Arab businessman who might have skulduggery in mind. Despite the surveillance, Latchkey bolts, leading to an Israeli decapitation and major cover-ups by several secret services, most of which attract attention from Flint, who suspects something fishy is going on. Soon Flint is on the run from those who want to silence him, a crowd that includes his superior Partridge; his wife’s new romantic interest, his colleague Billy Monmouth; and Andrew Gray, who, with CIA backing, has several informants on his payroll. Flint is sent packing to Belfast, supposedly to oversee the apprehension of some IRA terrorists, but the fix is in, and the beleaguered watcher must flee with Will Collins, one of the pair whose arrest he was supposed to be witnessing. The two piece together a saga of frayed allegiances, self-aggrandizement and chicanery that began with an assassination and spanned the career of an MP on a security-funding commission before winding up as a four-part investigative series in a London daily.
Not as stylishly compelling as Rankin’s later efforts, but a gritty appraisal of the bomb-wielding miasma of the 1980s and a highly readable explanation of the demons that drive zealots to switch sides.