Genre: Romantic suspense
I don’t have much time to read these days, but I do have time to listen to audio books in the car. Recently, I took a long road trip from Washington, D.C., to Chicago and had lots of time to listen. So I chose Nora Roberts’ 200th published novel, The Witness. (I say 200th published novel, because you just know she’s written at least 40 after The Witness that haven’t been published yet.)
I was not disappointed. What I love most about this book is that we get to meet the heroine when she’s a teenager — and spend a good chunk of time with her. But let me back up and fill you in on the plot details.
Elizabeth Fitch is 16 and an overachiever. (Not that Nora would know anything about that!) Her mother has strictly controlled her entire life, so when Mom goes to an out-of-town conference, leaving Elizabeth home alone … well, Elizabeth heads to the mall. See, shopping at the mall, wearing jeans and makeup … all that stuff is new to Elizabeth.
Next thing you know, Elizabeth has made a new friend, dyed her hair, adopted a new name (Liz) and used her fancy tech skills to make some fake IDs so she and her new bestie can go to a hot club. Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s rebellion has some very unfortunate (and deadly) consequences. When a stint in witness protection goes wrong, she heads into the wild unknown alone, determined to trust only herself and stay one step ahead of the Russian mafia that wants her dead.
Unusually for a romance novel, the reader gets to know Elizabeth pretty well when she’s a 16-year-old. You get to witness firsthand what transpired to turn her into the reserved and socially awkward Abigail Lowery. I’m thinking Nora did this on purpose, because to know Elizabeth and see what she goes through and why makes her predicament a lot easier to buy. I’m not sure I would have been as sympathetic if I’d just been told what happened — 16-year-old rebels against controlling mom and gets someone killed after creating fake IDs and going home with strange men (not strange strange, but strangers) … that scenario just wouldn’t have gotten much sympathy from me, I don’t think. I probably would have thought, “This woman was an idiot at 16.” But because I see it all happen, I buy every word. It makes perfect sense that Elizabeth does the things she does that lead her to tragedy.
Also unusual: It’s well into the book before you meet hero Brooks Gleason, sheriff in the small Arkansas town where Elizabeth, who now goes by Abigail (even in her own head), has found refuge. Brooks is intensely curious about this gorgeous hermit who carries a gun and has a big, very well-trained dog (Bert — I love Bert!). Despite Abigail’s cool responses to his attention, Brooks remains in pursuit. As any good romance hero should.
Abigail reminded me a lot of Temperance Brennan in the TV show Bones. Like Bones, Abigail doesn’t always get the joke, is woefully inept at social interaction and has a tendency to be quite blunt. Not there’s anything wrong with the similarity. It’s just something that struck me, and maybe only because I’m a devoted watcher of Bones.
I do think The Witness got a little slow in the middle, maybe because the emotional conflict between Abigail and Brooks was resolved fairly easily. Or maybe because I was driving through Ohio, which is a looooong state, at the time I was listening to that part. The narrator could have read a little faster, too. (Though that would be my only complaint about the narrator, Julia Whelan, and it’s not a complaint — more an observation from a listener who sometimes has issues with patience. I’m sure you’re shocked.)
All in all, I really enjoyed The Witness. The setup with 16-year-old Elizabeth was emotional and riveting. (I’m still bummed about what happened at that safe house.) And 12 years later, Abigail’s story — and resolution, because you know she can never have her HEA until the Russian Mob has been vanquished — was sweet, tense and, at times, pretty funny. As usual for Nora, the secondary characters were extremely well-drawn, especially Brooks’ fun Bohemian mom and, yes, even Bert.
What’s your favorite Nora Roberts book? Comment below – every week 5 randomly chosen commenters win a free book, winners announced on Sunday! Good luck!