Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Witness by Nora Roberts

Daughter of a controlling mother, Elizabeth finally let loose one night, drinking at a nightclub and letting a strange man's seductive Russian accent lure her to a house far away. The events that followed changed her life for ever.
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, 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 needs to be revealed.
I've not read a Nora Roberts book for the longest time.  This one though, when it came through for review really did appeal.  I like crimey novels and the fact that the Russian mafia is involved and the witness is on the run...well, needless to say, my interest was piqued. 
It's a quick read, in the sense that it makes you turn the pages really fast, which is great.  The writing is good, not great or fantastic, but it's the characters that genuinely appeal.  In Elizabeth we have a more human version of Tempe Brennan from Kathy Reichs' books.  
Elizabeth has lived a sheltered life in the sense that, for all her vast intelligence, she is kept away from other kids.  She's on course to become a doctor, like her mother, and instead of having a summer off, for herself, she's forced to take part in a course her mum has decided for her.  She rebels, throws a proper strop and her mother, who comes across as a superb cow, leaves Liz to stew in her angry juices, packs her bags and goes off on a business trip. 
Liz finds herself in the mall and decides to go on a bit of shopping spree - buying jeans and t-shirts and make-up.  Stuff she is never ever allowed to buy or wear as her mother buys and approves her clothes.  At the mall Liz makes friends with a girl she recognises from high school, they end up doing a bit more shopping and Liz agrees to make fake IDs for them to get into a local nightclub. 
The girls dress up and set off for a night on the town.  It's when they get to the nigh club and they are chatted up by the owner and his manager that alarm bells start ringing.  Liz is only sixteen, a few weeks from her seventeenth birthday and although she is highly intelligent, she has no real concept of relationships and the bigger scale of things.  
She lets herself be dragged along for a party at the one guy's house and once there, she becomes violently ill.  She falls asleep on the patio and is woken by harsh words being exchanged.  And sees a murder committed.  Liz runs.  She rings the police, they find her, she tells them everything that's happened, they take her into protective custody because basically she's handed them, on a platter, the local Russian mafia's right hand man on a platter. 
Things progress from here quite rapidly and the story unfolds easily - Liz becomes more likeable as she is forced to deal with mundane people and her security team, a bunch of great sounding cops.  She is contrasted well but never held as truly odd - her remarks are taken at face value and soon the cops realise how clever she is, how completely isolated and how her mum had basically treated her as an experiment and not as a daughter. 
Bad things happen and Liz runs, leaving the house in flames behind her, two of her security detail dead and one more wounded. 
We skip ahead in time and place and meet Abigail.  Very soon we realise who Abigail really is.  She's a recluse, living with a giant dog for protection and she works from home in a small town in the Ozarks - it sound fantastic and I personally would love to visit there.  As a programmer she has no real reason to travel around a lot as all of her work can be done from home but it's when she goes into the local town to buy some ingredients for her cooking, that she draws the attention of the local chief of police.  He's intrigued by this young woman who lives on the outskirts of town who is so incredibly private and almost painfully shy.  Or so he thinks, at least.  
Slowly but surely he - Brooks - makes friends with her.  Then his mum turns up at Abigail's place and is kind towards her.  Abigail is thrown in turmoil - she doesn't know how to do the friends thing.  The small talk thing, the whole relationship thing. 
Part of the charm of The Witness is seeing how Ms. Roberts contrasts Abigail/Liz and Brooks and his insane family.  How she teases out Abigail's reticence to make friends, to be friendly to others.  We are given a whole picture of a  young woman who, although wonderfully successful and highly intelligent, is so socially inept she researches barbecue etiquette online and throws fit when she realises she's expected to take along a covered dish of food to the barbecue.  
The relationship that develops between Abigail and Brooks is so well done - I fell in love with them as a couple.  The small-town shenanigans that go on formed a strong colourful secondary story to Abigail's story and when she eventually tells Brooks of her past, how she's been running and hiding, he fully stands by her and together they decide to make work of the old unresolved case. 
The Witness is tightly plotted and it felt like I got to spend a great deal of time with the characters, getting to know them and like them.  The world Ms. Roberts created is rich and populated with strong well thought out characters. 
The conclusion was good too - I thoroughly approved of it and it made me close the covers with a smile.  I would love to see this book turned into a movie as it has some great moments which i think would translate well to the screen.  Abigail/Liz is a resourceful, charming, funny, intelligent and wise character and Brooks is just swoon-worthy and cool and honest and all good things you want from a hero.  
If Ms. Roberts' other books are as well written and as much fun as The Witness, I may have become a fan. I highly recommend The Witness as a great summer read.  It will make you forget about airport lounges, the annoying child screaming for his parents around the pool, and it will carry you off to have an adventure with Abigail and Brooks and some Very Bad Men indeed.  Sadly, the cover lets it down, as it is quite bland and says pretty much nothing, but if you look past the obviousness of it, the book is a lovely surprise.  Definitely recommended! 


serendipity_viv said...

Nora Roberts is one of those authors who seems to get put down without people reading her books. Every time I hear someone has read her books for the first time, they fall in love with her writing. Looking forward to this one.

Jenni said...

Great review, I've enjoyed each and every one of her books that I've read so I think I'll watch out for this one.

Barbara said...

Haha...something like "don't judge a book by it's cover"?
Love your reviewing style-witty and to the point! Haven't read any of NR's books in a good couple of years, but used to be a big fan. Happy to hear that this one meets the grade. I got wind of it on the bookreportradio(dot)com over the weekend (a radio show I like to frequent with the attempt at sounding vaguely knowledgeable post childbirth, as they discuss a handful of books each week-check out their schedules and stations online). Wasn't quite decided though, but after reading your review, will go full steam ahead. Thanks.