Top critical review
2.0 out of 5 starsCrais can do much better
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on May 15, 2007
The Watchman is a mediocre book by an author who can do much better. Over the last decade or so, Robert Crais has written a number of page turners in which, besides his trademark ability to move the story along, he has crafted intricate plots and interesting, if not altogether believable, characters, with a sprinkling of humor thrown in for good measure. In contrast, The Watchman falls flat on almost all counts.
While The Watchman's premise is interesting, the story is quick to fizzle. One of the villains is all but given away in an early scene, and, from the middle of the book on, one gets the feeling that Crais is stuffing in filler material to meet a minimum required number of pages. There is only one twist in the plot, and it's not really significant enough to cause a major change in the general direction of things.
Another reason why the book is not much of a thriller is that it's difficult to empathize with the characters. Bad things are happening, to be sure, but to people one doesn't care much about. Joe Pike, who in other books has worked quite well both as alter ego to Elvis Cole, and, less often, as a main character, is just too two-dimensional in the Watchman, and Crais's attempts to focus on his more vulnerable side seem contrived. Sexual tension, which the author has put to good use in previous books, adds little to this one. But then a twenty-something woman who comes out with lines like: "It's difficult being me", yet can afford to wreck an expensive convertible without second thoughts, is not exactly easy to sympathize with, and the few sparks between her and Pike seem artificial rather than naturally occurring. Relegated to the sidelines, the usually upbeat Cole comes across as corny, if not utterly moronic. Even the character of John Chen, who normally provides entertaining diversions along with key forensic insights, can't add any spice to the hapless mix.
To tie the one loose end of the story, Crais resorts to an unnecessarily drawn out and gory epilogue. The same effect could have easily been achieved in a more subtle, succinct and tasteful way by having Cole read a blurb on a newspaper and letting the reader's imagination fill the voids. Again, one gets the impression that there was a length requirement to fulfill, hence the gratuitous and disjointed appendage.
All in all, to the reader accustomed to the likes of LA Requiem and The Two Minute Rule, the Watchman will prove a disappointment. None of the elements that make Crais shine in previous books seem to work in his latest. Knowing what this author has to offer, one can only hope that The Watchman is just a temporary lapse rather than an indication that Crais has lost his touch.