The Witness, by Nora Roberts

>> Friday, April 27, 2012

TITLE: The Witness
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

PAGES: 496

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romantic suspense

Daughter of a controlling mother, Elizabeth finally let loose one night, drinking at a nightclub and allowing a strange man’s seductive Russian accent lure her to a house on Lake Shore Drive. The events that followed changed her life forever.

Twelve years later, the woman known as Abigail Lowery lives on the outskirts of a small town in the Ozarks. A freelance programmer, she designs sophisticated security systems—and supplements her own security with a fierce dog and an assortment of firearms. She keeps to herself, saying little, revealing nothing. But Abigail’s reserve only intrigues police chief Brooks Gleason. Her logical mind, her secretive nature, and her unromantic viewpoints leave him fascinated but frustrated. He suspects that Abigail needs protection from something—and that her elaborate defenses hide a story that must be revealed.
16-year-old Elizabeth Fitch has been under her mother's thumb all her life. Her mother, a successful surgeon, had her by artificial insemination, carefully choosing the donor characteristics, and then spent the following 16 years molding Elizabeth into the perfect carbon-copy of herself. Elizabeth eats what her mother says, wears the clothes she deems appropriate and takes the classes selected for her. She's scarily clever, and has skipped grades so she is already in Harvard, taking pre-med.

Elizabeth has never rebelled against her mother. When she does, though, she goes to town with it. Literally. She ends up drinking Cosmos in a nightclub owned by the Russian mafia. Judgment slighly impaired and wanting to really live life, she ends up witnessing something awful. Before she can blink, she's a star witness under police protection, with the entire Russian mafia after her.

12 years later, Abigail Lowery moves into a property right outside a pretty little tourist town in the Ozarks. Abigail is reclusive and secretive, not making friends with anyone in town. She attracts the attention of the police chief Brooks Gleason, a man who can't resist a secret and who won't let himself be pushed away.

I LOVED this. It was my favourite Nora single title in a while. First, I opened it and loved the sections with Elizabeth as a teenager. It takes a while to get to the present-day section, but I didn't care, because it was so, so good. She's a brilliant character as a teen, and I loved her awakening to life. It all goes wrong, of course, and that just killed me.

But then we get to the present-day, and that was great as well. Abigail takes a while to warm up to. She's very socially awkward, bordering on rude, mostly because she doesn't really interact with people other than in the most superficial of ways. And she is extremely resistant to doing anything more, for very good reasons.

But Brooks is persistent. At first, it's only curiosity and doing his duty as police chief. A woman who's got industrial-grade security in her house, a trained attack dog and a veritable arsenal is clearly afraid of something, and if trouble is coming, the police chief needs to know. But it soon changes into something else, much, much more. In a strict sense, I guess this is a guy who does not listen when a woman tells him no, because he can tell she really means yes. I should have a problem with this. I didn't. It was so obvious to anyone with a pair of eyes that Abigail needed a bit of warmth and caring and family, that I just let that go completely.

I loved his fascination with Abigail, the way he found her awkwardness adorable and funny, and the way he was just exactly what she needed and deserved. Their initial attraction develops into intimacy right before our eyes, and when Abigail thinks no one has ever know her as Brooks does, that was obvious to me as the reader as well. He also gives her the sense of family and connection she needs, as he's very much a part of his community.

I loved the suspense as much as I did the romance. I don't want to say too much, because the joy of this book was about seeing things develop in a way that was completely unexpected to me. I was thinking it would be more like other Nora RS books, but it wasn't. Plenty of excitement, though, and a fantastic conclusion.

Oh, and the secondary characters! Bert the dog has more personality than characters who're supposed to be the protagonists in other books. This is one of Nora's main strengths, in my opinion, secondary characters who feel real and well-rounded. I've said it before, but whenever I read one of her JD Robb books, every time they go to interview someone new, I get excited about meeting a new character, because I know they're going to be individual and unique in some way, and interesting. Just read this book and when you get to the section when a guy called Roland Babbet shows up, you'll see what I mean.



Phyl 27 April 2012 at 15:35  

This is finally in at the library waiting for me. I had been looking forward to it, but even more so now after reading several good reviews like this one. I think I will be seriously "indisposed" tomorrow :)

Rosario 28 April 2012 at 07:45  

:-) Good thinking, Phyl! I think I read it all in one sitting, best way to do it!

Marg 28 April 2012 at 11:47  

It is amazing to think that after 200 books her books can still be so amazing!

I am waiting for this one to come into the library for me! Can't ait to read it.

jmc 28 April 2012 at 16:31  

I liked this one but didn't LOVE it, and it wasn't until I read your review that I realized why: I was expecting more suspense in the second half, and it just wasn't there. Must re-read it with adjusted expectations.

Also have thoughts on the interpretation of rural life and communities as described by Roberts. Someday I'll write a post on her settings, rural vs. urban, and their respective communities. Maybe.

Rosario 29 April 2012 at 08:37  

Marg: I know, I'm in awe of her.

jmc: I was expecting exactly the same (danger from the people threatening Abigail), but I guess I had the opposite reaction to not having those expectations fulfilled!

I'd be very interested in reading that post. Do you find them unrealistic?

jmc 29 April 2012 at 15:42  

Not necessarily unrealistic, but perhaps over-idealized? Her recent single titles are almost all set in small towns or communities, I think, and they feel oddly uniform despite disparate settings. The only truly big city setting is Eve Dallas' New York City, which feels un-urban to me in a lot of ways, perhaps because Eve's personal life and residence are now defined by vast wealth.

Rosario 29 April 2012 at 19:57  

Hmm, interesting. You're right, I've had a look at her bibliography and the last single title set in a big city is High Noon, and before that Blue Smoke. And even those, there's not much of a big city feel to them. I don't really mind that at all though. I guess to me, American settings are so foreign, that even though I'm a city girl through and through, American city settings don't feel any closer to my experience than the rural or small town ones!

jmc 1 May 2012 at 02:33  

Blue Smoke is set in my adopted home town and is Not Quite Right, enough so that my very first book review was about it. I've only visited Savannah (that's where High Noon is set, isn't it?), so I can't comment on how realistic the setting was or not.

In terms of the rural settings, her Chesapeake books (based on my relative familiarity growing up on the upper eastern shore and that of friends who grew up on the lower shore) are not inaccurate. But in some ways, it does feel like she has lifted the same communities and plunked them down in Arkansas or Alaska. Is there some commonality to be found? I'm sure there would be. But as a rule the settlement and foundation of any small town in the midwest or on the west coast would be vastly different than that of the east coat based on age, geography, immigration patterns, industry, etc. And all of that makes a difference to the culture (for lack of a better word) of that small town today.

For example, friends who moved to Maryland from California after brief stints in Arizona and Texas were utterly confounded by the unwritten, unspoken rules they found on the east coast, ranging from how to use public transportation (stand on the right, walk on the left) to store hours to which holidays are important and how they are celebrated.

Okay, you've got me thinking about this; I might actually have some impetus to do a survey of the single titles now.

Rosario 1 May 2012 at 19:01  

jmc: That's really facinating. Please do write that post, I really would love to read it.

What you say makes complete sense. I guess there's no way to capture the little nuances that make a place feel right without personal experience. And when one is writing a book every couple of months, each set in a different location, there's no way to get that!

Rosario 1 May 2012 at 19:02  

Ugh, fascinating. I do know how to spell!

Ceska 2 May 2012 at 04:18  

This was a pleasure to read, from start to finish. The plot was well-structured, the characters beautifully depicted, and oh, what a joy to read a book that has been well edited. Not just copy-edited, which is extremely important, but the book itself -- a clean story line, tight continuity, perfect grammar, no whiplash disconnects. Not only does Ms. Roberts deserve her five stars, her editor deserves them too. I loved it, and will re-read it soon.

Ceska 2 May 2012 at 04:18  

This was a pleasure to read, from start to finish. The plot was well-structured, the characters beautifully depicted, and oh, what a joy to read a book that has been well edited. Not just copy-edited, which is extremely important, but the book itself -- a clean story line, tight continuity, perfect grammar, no whiplash disconnects. Not only does Ms. Roberts deserve her five stars, her editor deserves them too. I loved it, and will re-read it soon.

Rosario 2 May 2012 at 06:36  

Ceska: that's an interesting point. I didn't think of the editing at all, but I think you're right. I did notice it flowed really well, and I practically didn't put it down from the moment I started it, even though it's really long.

J Howard,  1 August 2012 at 02:33  

I will be honest; I haven’t read half her 200 books, but have always enjoyed the ones I have read. Somehow, I’d also missed “The Witness" being released, but heard about it on bookreportradio(dot)com last week. Now that I don’t belong to a book club anymore(kids happened!), I try to catch their show to keep on top of what’s out there. I thought other avid readers, who don’t have time to read every book that catches their eye, may enjoy getting a basic outline of the handful of books they showcase every week. The schedule and radio stations airing the show can be found on their site, as well as recordings of past shows. It’s a handy tool for the busy mom.
Thanks for your feedback-I can't wait to get my hands on it.

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