The Watchmen centers on the interrogation of Ali Zattout, a former member of a Muslim terrorist cell currently held prisoner in a safe house in the northeastern United States. Though Zattout seems surprisingly cooperative to his CIA captors, a psychiatrist, Louis Finney, is called into the case as a consultant, a “watchman” to evaluate the credibility of the prisoner. Equally central to the story is another “watchman,” a brutal and heartless assassin whose goal is to eliminate all members of Zattout’s terrorist cell, including Zattout, before he can reveal information harmful to the cause. In pursuing this goal, the assassin shows no mercy in killing any person whom he perceives to be a threat to his mission, beginning with a harmless teenager whose only crime was adolescent curiosity and adulation of an older man. Other innocents fall victim to his need to preserve his identity.
Author John Altman’s style is direct and unadorned in those sections dealing with the activities of the assassin. On the other hand, the sections dealing with Finney and his cohorts reveal more colorful prose—descriptive adjectives, judicious use of similes, well-chosen images. The stark nature of the prose associated with the assassin is appropriate to the creation of a figure totally devoid of any redeeming feature. The brutality with which he dispatches any unfortunate who intrudes on his space is mind-chilling and renders the assassin a memorable, if not admirable, element of this thriller.