December 19

The Deathwatch Journal – Ian Rankin

A gripping original story for BBC Radio 4 by award-winning crime writer Ian Rankin, written for the landmark Radio 4 Book at Bedtime.

Saughton Prison, Edinburgh, 1962.

Prison guard Thomas Scott watches over a condemned man sentenced to hang for the murder of his wife.

His prisoner is a guilty man, that’s for sure. William Telfer has done enough bad things in his life. And Scott has been in his job long enough to know that guilty men often proclaimed their innocence right up until the moment the noose was placed around their necks. But as they wait out the days until his execution, Scott begins to suspect that Telfer is innocent of this murder.

An innocent man could be hanged by the neck until dead. And his jailer doesn’t know what to do about it….

To find out the truth, Scott must explore Edinburgh’s darkest corners. And he is running out of time.


My thanks to Helena at Penguin Random House for a review copy of the audiobook.


The Deathwatch Journal was written for BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime and it is perfectly pitched – both for the audience and also for the intended hour of listening.

The story of a condemned man, William Telfer, who has been found guilty of murdering his wife and is sentenced to hang in 1960’s Edinburgh. The story is also that of his guard, Thomas Scott, who spends time with Telfer and begins to question whether his prisoner is really guilty of the crime for which he is due to hang.

Despite being a murder tale there is no graphic violence and not explosive set pieces. We follow Thomas Scott to his work where he will chat with Telfer (who tries to elicit information from Scott to learn more about his guard) and Scott records Telfer’s disposition, activities and diet in a Deathwatch Journal.

As the two men chat Scott becomes less inclined to believe Telfer may be guilty of murder. He starts a private investigation, looking into some elements of Telfer’s trial which left unanswered questions. His digging will cause ripples and it is not too long before awkward conversations will take place with individuals who are quite happy to see Telfer hang.

The story plays out in very enjoyable fashion and the 1.25 hour running time slipped away all too quickly. Away from the prison we get a look at Scott’s personal life and a nostalgic nod to the 1960’s lifesyles and the exciting prospect of a “new town” being built to the West of Edinburgh.

The Deathwatch Journal is narrated by Jimmy Chisholm and his voice lends its-self perfectly to the tale. The tough guys from Edinburgh’s harder days are suitably intimidating.  Thomas Scott comes across as an amiable likeable character and Mr Chisholm comfortably manages  (where other narrators have not fared so well) to give all the characters their own “voice”.

I listened to the Deathwatch Journal without reading the blurb beforehand and enjoyed the mystery of the tale – the afterward was also an unexpected surprise which made me appreciate the story even more (cryptic – but sorry…no spoilers).

Ideal late night listening and well worth setting aside a couple of evenings to enjoy The Deathwatch Journal.


The Deathwatch Journal is published by Penguin Random House and Licensed by BBC Worldwide Ltd.  It is available on CD or as an Audible download here:

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