While I’m not as ardent a fan of Ms Roberts as other long time romance readers¹, I definitely enjoy her writing—many of her titles of the past decade grace my keeper shelves. As of May 2012, she is one of two writers I’ll buy in hardback, budget be damned, so it was pretty much a given that I would buy The Witness as soon as I possibly could (and amazon made it not only easy but cheaper than most everywhere else, so…).
The Witness is the 200th published novel by romance genre grand dame and standard bearer, Nora Roberts. Informal research confirms that there aren’t many people in history who can claim to have done as much²—and I’ll add that this novel commemorates this milestone with a bang (or three).
Here is what the cover jacket says:
“Elizabeth Fitch’s short-lived teenage rebellion began with L’Oréal Pure Black, a pair of scissorts and a fake ID. It ended in blood…
Daughter of a cold, controlling mother and an anonymous donor, studious, obedient Elizabeth finally let loose one night, drinking too much at a night club and allowing a strange man’s seductive Russian accent to 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 alone in the outskirts of small town in the Ozarks. A freelance programmer, she works at home designing sophisticated security systems. Her own security is supplemented by a fierce dog and an assortment of firearms. She keeps to herself, saying little, revealing nothing.
Unfortunately, that seems to be the quickest way to get attention in a tiny southern town.
The mystery of Abigail Lowery intrigues local police chief Brooks Gleason, on both a personal and a professional level. Her sharp, logical mind, her secretive nature, her unromantic viewpoints leave him fascinated but frustrated. He suspects that Abigail needs protection from something, even if he doesn’t know what—and that her elaborate defenses hide a story that must be revealed.
Accustomed to two-bit troublemakers, Gleason is about to walk into the sights of very powerful and dangerous men. And Abigail Lowery, who has built a life based on security and self-control, is at risk of losing both.”
Readers beware: the last paragraph in the blurb has nothing whatsoever to do with the novel. My best guess is that the publisher/marketing department felt the need to add some oooommmppphhhh by pretending there would be some kind of fight or stand off between our hero and the bad guys. This is, not only misleading, but demeaning to the story Ms Roberts wrote, and to one of the most appealing heroines I’ve read in a while³.
The first two lines of the novel, quoted at the beginning of the blurb, have tremendous impact. They are a hook that propels the reader through the relatively quiet buildup to the climax of the first act. The meat of the novel is the next two acts. Elizabeth is now Abigail and, after twelve years of hiding from both the Russian mafia and the federal authorities—and not just running, but thriving while on the run—has come to a place where she feels safe.
Or as safe as she can.
DAJane says in her review that there is no real conflict for her in the relationship between Abigail and Brooks. I see it differently. For me, this is her story, and the conflict is much subtler, all of it internal, but not less powerful for that at all.
For me, the climax of the story comes on the last pages of the third act, a full hundred before the actual end of the novel. That’s the moment when Abigail finally dares to trust without guarantees, to risk peace and contentment for the chance to earn true joy and a love free of secrets. That scene has all the more impact on me, is that much more powerful in my eyes, because it comes naturally. While it is prompted by some events, it flows from Abigail emotional growth rather than from trauma or shock.
Carolyn (aka C. L. McCullough) has said that Abigail is “so needy and she doesn’t know it. Her strength covers it up.” I agree, completely. I think that one of the reasons readers want to give her all the love she hasn’t had is that she doesn’t feel sorry for herself. Yes, she feels guilty about the consequences of her rebellion against her mother, but she also understands that such guilt is misplaced, and why. What she doesn’t understand completely is why she still feels guilty, and despite all her self confidence4, she is still growing emotionally. Her childhood and first youth under her mother’s control, and then the years of hiding, have effectively isolated Abigail, but they have also caused her to separate herself from her own emotions. This is a strong, independent woman who is self-aware enough to make the conscious decision to accept her feelings for another despite well funded, deep seated fears.
The last act of the book, while still powerful and, in some ways, more action filled, deals with the aftermath of that climactic scene. Readers like me, who often complain about how short-changed we feel when major conflicts for the protagonists are solved within three or so pages will enjoy this part very much. Things happen relatively quickly, but the events are not rushed. What we see is necessary to reassure us that Abigail and Brooks will indeed enjoy their HEA.
The Witness is most definitely another keeper book—9.25 out of 10.
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¹ Meaning I don’t own, nor have I read, every one of her books, though I usually will pick them up if I see them at my local UBS.
² Interesting how little noise there has been about this, and how much of that noise was, if not completely derogatory, it was more than casually condescending. Then again, romance, right? (Methinks this calls for another post…)
³ And that is probably yet another post—why the effort to make it feel as if Brooks literally faced off the villains to rescue Abigail? Why make it about the hero, when one of the best parts of the book is the fact that it’s Abigail who nails the bad guys?
4 “Yes, I’m very smart” and “Yes, I’m highly intelligent” or variations thereof are things she routinely says whenever anyone comments on what she knows or her skills.