Feature book: The Witness
Elizabeth Fitch is sixteen. She has led a very sheltered life, controlled completely by her mother. She is a genius and has already started Harvard Medical School, following in her mother’s footsteps, on her mother’s orders. But, Elizabeth doesn’t want to be a doctor. In fact, she’s decided she doesn’t want to follow her mother’s instructions anymore on just about everything. She wants to wear cool clothes and have girlfriends to go shopping with at the mall. She wants to study cyber crime and join the FBI. When her mother leaves her alone at home to attend a medical conference, Elizabeth decides it’s time to act. Her small rebellion—going to the mall to buy some new clothes, cutting and dying her hair and meeting up with a former school colleague, Julie Masters, is to have far-reaching consequences.
Elizabeth and Julie go to a nightclub using fake Ids, which Elizabeth has cooked up at home using her mad computer skills. The nightclub is owned by Russian Mafia family the Volkovs and there, Julie and Elizabeth meet Ilya Volkov and his cousin Alex Gurevich. Julie and Alex hit it off and Ilya gives Elizabeth her first kiss. They plan to move the party to Alex’s house. Although uncertain, Elizabeth wants to do something daring and she is smitten with Ilya, so she agrees. At the last minute, however, Ilya is called away and she is left the odd one out at Alex and Julie’s party.
Alex has been a naughty boy and when Volkov enforcer Yakov Korotkii executes both him and Julie (as collateral damage), Elizabeth is a witness.
She escapes, calls the police and is placed in protective custody where she meets some sympathetic US Marshalls who are taken with Elizabeth’s poise, intelligence and little-girl-lost air—Elizabeth’s mother is cold and unloving and these US Marshalls become a kind of family. However, things go very wrong (and here I’m going to get vague about the plot to avoid spoilers) and Elizabeth ends up running, but this time, on her own.
The book then picks up nearly 12 years later in Bickford, Arkansas, a small artsy town in the Ozarks. Brooks Gleason grew up there, went away to spend some time in the Little Rock PD and returned six months earlier to be Bickford’s chief of police. Brooks is an easy going charmer—he tends to get his way using patience and his agreeable nature to win people over to his point of view, but he’s also smart, kind, generous, good looking and a darn good cop.
He’s also got the hots for Abigail Lowery, a solitary woman who moved to Bickford about a year earlier and who works from home as a freelance security consultant. Abigail keeps to herself and stays mostly on her just-out-of-town property with her bull mastiff, Bert. She’s pretty and Brooks is smitten and his cop instincts and natural curiosity are also engaged when he notices she carries a gun everywhere and has excellent security. He works out pretty quickly that Abigail is hiding from something or someone and this rouses his protective instincts too. He decides it’s time to get to know Abigail better.
Abigail is lost when it comes to Brooks. She’s never met anyone like him. He’s friendly, gentle and impossibly persistent. She finds herself, much to her surprise, not only letting him into her house, but sharing food with the man.
“All right. You can have the pie and the wine. But I won’t have sex with you.”
“Now you hurt my feelings.”
“No, I haven’t.” Deciding to make her position clear, she started for the house. “I like sex.”
“See there, we just keep finding common ground. If this keeps up, we’ll be best friends inside a week,”
“If I wanted friends, I’d join a book club.”
Loosening up, he thought, delighted with the sarcasm. “I like to read, which is another check mark on common ground. But we were talking about sex.”
Before she can really get a handle on things, she’s in a relationship with him and learning about trust and love and, through Brooks and his own family and strong ties to the town, about family and belonging and home, all things she’s never had before. All things Brooks is determined she will have from now on, with him.
Of course, Abigail is Elizabeth—that’s not going to surprise anyone—and the rest of the story is about how Abigail eventually comes to trust Brooks, as he uses his gentle, patient form of persistence to soothe and cajole her secrets out of her:
“You’ve got a lot of secrets behind your eyes, and a hell of a lot of weight on your shoulders. I’m going to keep believing that one day you’re going to share those secrets and that weight with me, and we’ll figure out the rest once you do.”
and how they, together, come up with a way to set the past to rights and make it as safe as possible for her to live a normal life and stay in Bickford happily ever after.
It helps that Abigail is crazy smart and that she has become a talented cyber-wiz—with skills including hacking into the FBI, US Marshall and the Volkov’s computer networks. Between those and Brooks’s cop skills and instincts, they come up with a plan.
I can’t really say anymore without giving out big spoilers. In fact, I felt a bit funny about saying as much as I did about the beginning because I had the joy of going into it pretty much blind. I knew the story was about a Federal witness but that was about it. But as the events I mention at the start all occur within the first 100 pages, strictly, they aren’t spoilers and really, I have to tell you something about the story now don’t I? 🙂
The book is over 480 pages long, so there is plenty of time to set up the characters and the relationship between Abigail and Brooks. It was lovely to read such a substantial book and sink into the easy writing style of classic Nora Roberts. The style is easy, the content is interesting and the characters are smart, funny and sexy. Abigail is socially stunted and there is a lot of humour in how she says things—literal, technical and factual—and Brooks’s gentle teasing of her, but she is never unsympathetic or a caricature. Brooks is a wonderful hero and I think I fell a bit in love with him myself.
I admit I was a little worried by about the three-quarter mark though. What if the author had painted herself into a corner? The bad guys were really bad—they had plenty of money, persistence, a grudge and moles in many law enforcement agencies—just how was Abigail going to get out of this? Sometimes romantic suspense stories just collapse at the end under the weight of the convoluted plots and the big resolve is some kind of Deus ex Machina or just improbable and disappointing. But not this one. Sure, there is a degree of disbelief one has to employ to read almost any fiction but, within the context of this story, the resolution was entirely believable and logical, as well as slick and smart. I very much enjoyed the way Abigail and Brooks worked together to solve the problem at hand—Brooks didn’t just take over, and they discussed plans before taking action. They were careful and sensible and took considered and necessary risks rather than foolish ones.
I did have a couple of niggles—even with Brooks’s affable charm, Abigail does let him into her house pretty quickly. Once he was in, the development of the relationship was entirely believable but given her history, I thought that maybe Abigail would hold him off a little longer. The other thing was right near the end where I would have liked a little more detail about one step in the process. I can’t say more without giving too much away. I can say that I suspect it was left out because it was probably a repeat of some of the same strategies Abigail and Brooks had already used in the plan but I was enjoying the story so much I wanted to know everything. However, they are very small niggles in what was otherwise a riveting and delightful read.
I think this is Nora Roberts at her amazing best. If you like Nora Roberts, if you like romantic suspense, if you like a well-written book with an excellent story and wonderful characters—this book is for you.
Reviewed by Kaetrin
A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.