And still she felt more confident at the prospect of taking on the Russian Mafia than she did attending a backyard barbecue.
The Witness by Nora Roberts is a strong tale woven together by threads of suspense, romance, crime, stunningly constructed characters and one of the best female protagonists I’ve ever come across.
Elizabeth is the daughter of a Stepford wife – esque doctor who used a carefully selected sperm donor to ensure Elizabeth would be of fine stock. Whilst ensuring her child had the best education and finest of life, Elizabeth (who is insanely bright but socially inadept) never knew love at her mother’s hands. It’s only natural that the teenager eventually rebels. When Elizabeth sneaks out with a fake ID to go to a nightclub with a new friend she ends up witnessing a murder and has no choice but to go into hiding from the Russian Mafia. Years later, she resurfaces as Abigail.
The Witness was the first Nora Roberts book I ever tackled and she won me over with ease. Despite her reliance on some classic cliches (which are usually a turnoff for me), this book was strong in its character construction and plot. Roberts has concocted one of those genuine can’t-put-this-down crime fiction novels.
Here are my thoughts on The Witness:
I am not a cliche fan, but Nora I forgive you
My general stance is that cliches in fiction are a lazy mechanism. They don’t add any dimension and they’re rarely used with flair. But Roberts used a few in conjunction with an intricate plot and delicately planned characters, and it worked. The whole awkward-girl-not-ready-for-love-is-relentlessly-pursued-by-man-who-thinks-he-can-save-her trope makes me roll my eyes in most novels that follow this path. But I was rooting for Abigail and Brooks the entire time.
I feel like I’d know her characters if I met them in the street
The construction of character in this novel was stunning. I felt such a vibrant sense of who each character was. Every action, every line of dialogue cleverly built these three dimensional characters. And I’m not just talking about Abigail and Brooks, the mains. Brooks’ mother Sunny was a standout, as well as sidelined characters like Sylvie and Grover. The characters were admirable and likeable even when they were moody, which is quite a feat to pull off.
Abigail remains one of my all-time favourite female protagonists
Abigail is deeply flawed and deeply traumatised, but not in a damsel-in-distress kind of way. She’s incredibly intelligent and she uses it. She’s hugely resourceful, making a living as a freelance programmer designing highly-sophisticated security systems (including a pretty OTT one for her own property) and is one hell of a shot. Rather than flat out hiding from the Russians, she takes satisfaction in slowly hacking into their systems and leaking information anonymously to an FBI contact.
She’s also clunky when it comes to social activities, preferring the company of her dog. Her flaws are well-written and plenty, and she’s still likeable.
Overall, The Witness is one of not many crime fiction novels I come back to again and again. Oftentimes in this genre, once you reach the ending (and Poirot-esque ‘big reveal’) there’s little appeal in a repeat read. But The Witness is so packed with characters you want to be around and a world you want to experience that it’s worth coming back for more.