The Witness by Nora Roberts
Released in April 2012 through Hachette Australia
I honestly can’t believe it took me so long to read this book. Ever since stumbling across Nora Roberts’ Blood Brothers trilogy in 2007, I’ve read over a dozen of her books and eagerly anticipate her annual adult romantic suspense thriller. Perhaps the reason for my hesitation in picking up The Witness came from my mild disappointment with the last few standalone thrillers, none of which have lived up to 2008’s Tribute. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, though, and now my aim is to convince you to stop whatever it is you are doing and immediately pick up this book.
Dr Susan Fitch is a woman of schedule and order. As the chief of surgery, Dr Fitch has complete control over everything in her life to ensure her work life is never interrupted or disturbed. So when she decides to ‘procreate’ (not ‘have a child’), she cannot leave anything to chance. With a list of prerequisites to ensure the resulting child is physically and mentally flawless, Dr Fitch picks the perfect donor and creates Elizabeth Fitch, ‘pleasant yet not quite sufficiently beautiful’ with an IQ of 210. Following in the footsteps of her mother, Elizabeth’s life is structured and scheduled. Incapable of love, Dr Fitch believes she is providing the best possible future for her child. Elizabeth wears the clothes her mother chooses, she eats the food her mother’s dietician approves, she studies the courses her mother selects, and she lives the life her mother dictates. At this point, I wanted to give Elizabeth a great big hug…
This carries on for years until one night, when Elizabeth is 16, everything changes. After an argument with her mother, Elizabeth drives to the mall (outrageous–her first rebellious act is a simple drive to the mall) to stock up on unsanctioned clothing and makeup. There, Elizabeth bumps into classmate Julie, and a plan is thrown together for Elizabeth to prepare them both fake IDs for a night of underage clubbing. Appropriate outfits are purchased and Elizabeth works hard overnight to get the identification ready. Her skills are wide and varied and though her mother has preselected medicine as Elizabeth’s future career, her dream is to become a forensic computer technician and master hacker for an agency such as the FBI. The IDs are a hit and Elizabeth (now known as Liz) and Julie hit the hottest club in town. It doesn’t take long for two handsome men to start dancing with the girls, and for the first time in her life, Liz is having real fun. Little does she know that the night will take a turn for the deadly and change her life forever.
Years later, Abigail Lowery is living a quiet and secluded life in a little town tucked into the Ozarks. The townspeople regard her as peculiar and reclusive, and this is how Abigail prefers it. With a state of the art security system that she designed and installed herself, her gigantic dog Bert, and a various array of firearms, Abigail feels safe. Safe, finally, from the demons of her past. To a certain extent, Abigail resembles Dr Finch in that her life is ordered and controlled, and her social interactions are stilted and awkward. Abigail speaks like a robot and sounds like a walking encyclopedia when communicating with others. She speaks without emotion or interest and her ability to relate to others is highly limited. Her seclusion peculiar personality catch the interest of Chief of Police Brooks Gleason, who slowly begins to pursue a relationship with Abigail.
In typical Nora Roberts fashion, the romance element plays out alongside the thriller/suspense element. The romance between Abigail and Brooks felt less nauseating than many of Roberts’ recent couples, and Brooks’ interest and enthusiasm (coupled with Abigail’s extreme hesitation) felt genuine and realistic. I did feel slightly let down by the climax of the suspense plot, and felt that it wasn’t as hard-hitting as readers might expect it or want it to be. The first 200-odd pages sets the scene perfectly and solidifies Roberts’ position as an expert storyteller. I only feel like Abigail deserved a more fierce showdown with her enemies than she received.
Nonetheless, The Witness is an enjoyable and thrilling read. Roberts’ ability to build characters and relationships is second to none and you’ll be cheering for Abigail as she attempts to put her enemies to rest once and for all.