Charlotte Link's The Watcher starts out as if the writer (and hence, the reader) is looking at the world through an enormous panoramic lens, panning past dozens of seemingly unrelated scenes featuring what appear to be unconnected characters. The effect is disorienting and, especially since some of the scenes are violent, more than a little unsettling. In such novels, the reader needs to trust that the author will eventually narrow the focus, reveal the connections, and enable the reader—like the characters who populate Link's novel—to fit together the puzzle pieces that reveal the bigger picture...and, in this case, the identity of the criminal.
At first, it can be difficult to determine which characters are the focus of Link's narrative (and which, by contrast, are in the novel primarily to serve as victims for its serial-killer villain). Soon, however, two characters - Gillian Ward and Samson Segal - emerge as central to the overall narrative, for very different reasons. By all appearances, Gillian Ward lives an ideal life in suburban London. She has a devoted husband, Tom, with whom she jointly runs a consulting business. The couple has a twelve-year-old daughter, Becky, who enjoys playing tennis and spending time with her friends. Behind the scenes, however, Gillian finds her life anything but ideal. She and Tom have grown increasingly distant, and she and Becky are constantly at each other's throats. Is it any wonder that she's been having inappropriate thoughts about Becky's attractive tennis coach, John Burton, a former Scotland Yard investigator?
Samson Segal, however, is all about appearances. He lives in Gillian's neighborhood and spends his days wandering the streets, looking mostly at the women who live nearby and writing things about them in his diary. He's an odd fellow, unemployed and living with his brother and sister-in-law. He knows everything there is to know about Gillian Ward (or at least everything there is to see)—so when a series of murders strikes close to the Ward family, it's not surprising that Samson is under suspicion.
It's also probably not surprising that John Burton can't just look the other way when the police start investigating this series of crimes. He cares about Gillian and Becky, and it turns out he's still got the sleuthing bug (and the skills to go with it). With an unclear motive and an apparent lack of connection among the murderer's victims, John has his work cut out for him—and he finds help in the most surprising places.
The Watcher is popular German author Charlotte Link's second novel (after The Other Child) to be translated into English and published in the United States. Thanks to the popularity of Scandinavian crime novels, in particular, American readers are becoming more familiar with reading thrillers in translation; Link's London setting (her previous English-translated novel was also set in the United Kingdom), however, makes this seem less foreign than it might otherwise.
There are a few non-idiomatic glitches in the translation ("the man of her life, her great love"), but they hardly distract from the psychological intensity and mounting suspense of Link's expertly plotted narrative. Even after the reader knows (or has guessed) the killer's identity, suspense remains, as the villain's personal history (and complicated motives) have yet to be revealed. What's more, in addition to being a truly gripping thriller, The Watcher also offers genuine character development, as its central characters all evolve and grow as individuals even in the wake of the troubling events that bring them together. American readers can only hope that more of Link's work will soon be available in translation.
This review was originally published in June 2014, and has been updated for the July 2015 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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