In In-Nemmies Alfred Scalpello, senior lecturer in German at the University of Malta Junior College and lecturer in Translation at the University of Malta, pulls off a veritable tour de force of the translator’s craft. In-Nemmies is a translation of Frankfurt-based German author Charlotte Link’s 2011 thriller Der Beobachter, a novel which, for the most part, is set in the fictional English seaside town of Southend-on-Sea.

Link’s novel develops on two planes. It is at one and the same time a gripping thriller centering on the seemingly inexplicable and unrelated killings of two lonely elderly women and a well-to-do tax advisor and a socially-involved narrative focusing on a number of problems which afflict the affluent, contemporary West.

Problems include the loneliness endured by old people whose families have no time for them, the distress suffered by persons who have invested a lot in a relationship only to see it disintegrate before their eyes, the lack of understanding between children and parents, the inertia which results from being unloved and ignored in society and the sense of being alone, utterly alone in a crowd.

Though this novel is a thriller, it is not a typical product of the genre. This is because though the thriller is normally plot-driven, with everything in the novel purposefully moving towards the ultimate resolution, Link, in this novel, is very much intent on providing her readers with in-depth psychological portraits of her characters – especially her main characters including Samson Segal, the ‘watcher’ of the title, and Gillian Ward, a woman in early middle-age whose life comes apart under the combined impact of the failure of her marriage and another  tragedy which hits her in the course of the narrative.

A feature which permeates the novel from beginning to end is the sad, brooding nature of the setting Link gives her tale, a sadness which is reflected in the novel’s characters themselves, all of whom are, for one reason or another, unhappy. Link’s Southend-on-Sea, indeed, with its early-morning frosts, bitingly-cold winds and evening snowfalls, could easily have been a German lakeside town in winter.

Link’s Der Beobachter is a novel that keeps the reader involved until the very last page. Scalpello’s excellent translation will make this work accessible to those who enjoy reading good-quality foreign literature in Maltese.

The book is published by Horizons.