The Witness by Nora Roberts

The Witness - Julia Whelan, Nora Roberts

Sixteen year old Elizabeth has been under the thumb of her controlling mother since birth but she’s had enough. In a spectacular act of rebellion she falsifies two ID’s and heads out clubbing with a brand new friend. The night ends badly. Liz witnesses a double murder and, because she has a spectacular memory, she is able to recount the events and ID the perps who are part of the Russian mob. Uh oh. She’s whisked off to a safe house where she finds some peace but then more terrible things happen. 

This part of the story was suspenseful and emotional and immediately drew me in but then it switched gears and picked up a decade or so later. I have to be honest, I wasn’t too sure of this turn of events when it happened. It almost felt like I was reading an entirely different book. The pace slowed way down and the tension was all but lost for a while but no worries because it all comes together in the end.

Liz is now “Abigail” and she’s living a solitary life in a quaint little resort town in the middle of nowhere with only her enormous dog Burt. Burt is good company and she’s content but then a new Chief of Police begins snooping into her business. Brooks is curious about the strange, pretty loner and wonders why she feels the need to carry a concealed weapon to buy groceries and he won’t let her alone. He’s persistent and stubborn and worms his way into her life despite all of her attempts to brush him off. He shows up with flowers and infringes on her meals and the more time he spends hanging around, the more she realizes just how much she likes having him around. He’s funny, warm and kind and he listens to her. But she’s afraid, for good reasons, that he’ll die if he hangs around her too long and that’s a problem. But, as he says so eloquently, “I'm not some weak-spined half-ass fuckhead who slithers off when everything's not just exactly perfect.”

I loved this book and its characters. It was everything a romantic suspense novel should be. The suspense was always there lurking in the background but it didn’t overwhelm the characters and take over the book and bore me to death. The relationship starts out slow and builds believably. Abigail slowly learns to open up to him and his nosey and meddling family. His mom is actually the one who starts things off by imposing on Abigail first and telling Brooks all about her visit.

 

“She spoke French to the dog.”
That had him lifting his head again. “What?”
“I just wonder why somebody would teach their dog French, is all. She had very nice manners. She listens to you with her whole body. Something about her just pulled at me. I swear, I wanted to pet her like I did the dog.”
“You . . . you petted that big-ass monster dog?”
“She told it in French it was all right. He was very sweet. He’s devoted to her, I could see that. Never strayed more than two feet away. He’s a very good dog, and I’m sure a fine companion. But that girl needs a friend. Now, I’ve got to run by the store and pick up some things. I want to try this recipe she gave me.”
“Ma, I don’t want you to go over there until I know more.”
“Brooks.”
He was thirty-two years old, and that tone that look, could still make his balls shrink to marbles.
“You’re a grown man, but it hasn’t come to the point where you tell me what to do. If you want to find out more about her, why don’t you go out there and be friendly, like I did?”
“And take her pie?”
“You might try a bottle of wine.”


Sound good? That’s because it is! Nora Roberts really excels at family dynamics when she’s on. If you haven’t read a Roberts novel in a while because her last few weren’t so great (did I say that aloud?) or you’re just looking for a romantic suspense that gets it all right then I’m thinking this one should be put at the top of your pile.

Narration Notes: Narrator Julia Whalen has a young sounding voice suited to rebellious Elizabeth but she also smoothly transitions to a more mature Abigail with ease. Initially the dialogue felt really stiff and stilted but as they story moved along it made complete sense. Whalen deftly handled the Russian accents and manly inflections as well as Liz’s social awkwardness early on. There are a bunch of characters (but not too many) in this book and the narrator gave them all very distinct voices. Her reading was smooth, well-paced and warm when necessary and tense and suspenseful when the plot demanded it. Honestly? I have no complaints about the narration and can see why this one is up for an Audie award this year. Julia Whalen completely deserves it.