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REVIEW: The Witness by Nora Roberts

Dear Ms. Roberts:

I’ve always been a fan of the single title romantic suspense books you’ve written over the straight contemporaries which is probably why some of the J.D. Robb books are my favorite in the JD Robb/Nora Roberts bibliography. In this 200th book you’ve published, you display exactly why you’ve managed to capture reader’s attentions for over three decades.

Nora Roberts The WitnessThe Witness features a Lisbeth Salander character, a woman on the run with a lot of money, a talent with computers, and a driving need for revenge. When Elizabeth Fitch was 16, a russian mob ruined her life on the one night that Elizabeth rebels from her mother’s strict rules. A prodigy, Elizabeth was driven by her mother to dress a certain way, read certain books, and be a neurosurgeon. There was no room for fun, friends, and boys.

Elizabeth had had enough and she creates a couple of fake IDs, one of which buys her a friend for the evening and the two go to one of the hottest nightclubs in Chicago.  One thing leads to another and Elizabeth becomes witness to a mob hit that could bring down Volkov organized crime family. Spirited away, Elizabeth has to go on the run.  About 90 pages are devoted to laying the ground work for the suspense and investing the reader in Elizabeth’s outcome and those 90 pages are well spent.  By the end of chapter one, I ached for Elizabeth’s loveless childhood and by the end of chapter eight, I hoped that something, anything would finally go right for Elizabeth.  I was so committed to Elizabeth that I would have overlooked any dues ex machine for her to have a positive outcome.

Twelve years later, Elizabeth now renamed as Abigail lands in Brooks Gleason’s town of Bickford. Brooks is the police chief with an insatiable curiosity and he cannot help be intrigued (and wary) of a stranger who has come to his small town.Most of his days are spent mediating small claims but big ones as well like the continuing domestic abuse of a wife who keeps excusing her husband’s behavior.The emotional conflict of the two is low and I was surprised at how easily Elizabeth allowed Brooks into her life, given her natural reserve.

The reader always knows that Abigail can’t  have a happy ending unless the mob issue is addressed but the question of how one woman and one small town police chief can bring down a powerful and dangerous Russian mob family hangs like an unhappy cloud over their blossoming relationship.

I saw one reader refer to Abigail from suffering from Asperger Syndrome. Abigail was reserved and awkward with other people but I felt that was a result of a conditioning but an unfeeling parent along with Abigail’s accelerated learning path which did not expose her to forming social relationships with her peers coupled with over a decade of hiding rather than a genetic condition.  Abigail’s awkwardness is offset by Brooks’ relentless friendliness.  They are polar opposites.

The main drawback of this book is the lack of emotional conflict.  Abigail and Brooks fall for each other pretty easily, particularly given Abigail’s natural reticence.  I was surprised that Brooks wasn’t more suspicious of her and worried more about the danger that this strange person would bring to his little town but Brooks is nearly instantly attracted by her and concludes her strangeness must be the result of some danger to Abigail.

For contemporary readers who like some non gruesome romantic suspense on the side and for romantic suspense readers who like a sweet romance, The Witness is a great way to pass the time.  It does not have a lot of angst, but it does have fully realized characters, two great main characters, and a good suspense.  Oh, and a dog with its own personality.

Best regards,



Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. becca
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 10:41:49

    I don’t need a lot of emotional angst between the main characters – I think that there was angst enough in the mystery. More would have been superfluous, I think. I did think that the romance happened too quickly, but my only real problem with the book was that it ended rather abruptly. I would have liked to have seen more resolution of the two big crimes/mysteries, rather than just having them alluded to. Still, this is one of Nora’s meatier books, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

  2. Lil
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 10:56:23

    “Non-gruesome romantic suspense”— sounds like this is one for me. Thanks.

  3. library addict
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 11:54:25

    I liked this one a lot and enjoyed the romance between Elizabeth/Abigail and Brooks. The lack of external conflict in regards to Abigail allowing Brooks to get so close didn’t bother me too much since we got her internal thoughts on the matter and the fact she had such a longing for family. And people like Sunny do tend to steamroll their way though life.

    I did feel the ending was rather anti-climatic though.

  4. JoanneL
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 12:11:41

    I’m a Nora Roberts fan so if she publishes I buy.

    I always love her (generally) beta heroes and I get weak-kneed over incredibly intelligent heroines so this book really worked well for me.

    Having declared my fandomness I will say that my one peeve is that I believe Ms Roberts has used up her lifetime allowance of the word ‘pretty’. It wasn’t so prominent in this book but it’s still her go-to and it would be nice to see it take a vacation.

    Still, an ‘A’ read for me.

  5. Kim
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 12:15:47

    This book is a refreshing change from NR’s usual suspense books. There were no how-to lectures on gardening and renovations and Abigail is written as a unique character in the Nora Roberts pantheon of heroines. I enjoy all of Nora Roberts’ books, but having written so many, some of her characters can feel too familiar. This wasn’t the case with Abigail.

    Although Abigail went to school and must have interacted with teachers and classmates, she was still raised in utter isolation. Since she had no friends, she never learned the skill set of dealing with interpersonal relationships. You could almost feel Abigail’s pain when she lost her only friend and protectors and hoped she’d eventually find people to care about her.

    Like Jane, I don’t think Abigail had Asbergers. She was socially awkward and liked routine because of her trauma and childhood environment, not genetics. There was something endearing about Abigail trying to decide if something was a joke or not. She is a very likeable character.

    This is a book definitely worth reading.

  6. becca
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 12:27:29

    In creating Elizabeth/Abigail, I did wonder whether Nora had been watching Bones lately – similar back story (cold, demanding, mother) and the way Abigail tended to talk sometimes. Not Aspergers, just overly formal and literal.

  7. Carrie
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 13:45:44

    I really enjoyed The Witness. I thought it was a very solid romantic suspense, with good characters and a layered suspense plot. The romance wasn’t stellar, but it was still satisfying. And yeah, Bert the dog is a great character. The fact that Roberts mostly resisted writing those odd sentence fragments that she’s been fond of lately in her dialogues was a plus, too. ;-)

  8. Renda
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 14:27:05

    I wrote this on an OT reading thread on a workout forum I frequent.

    Typical Nora. Heroine is bestest/smartest ever, with an understated beauty and the ability to handle firearms/hand-to-hand combat like a Navy Seal, with a tragic secret/life predicament that only the hero, with his charm, good looks and supportive family, can save her from, with her own help, that is. Nora doesn’t do weak women.
    And yet I still loved every illogical, far fetched bit of it. And look forward to reading it again in a year or so when I have forgotten every bit of it.

    So that summed it for me. I loved it. I have no real reason to love it. It made me feel good. It was a comfort read. Since it is a standalone I wasn’t looking for the next cast of characters. I read it in less than 24 hours when I had a lot of other stuff going on. I, too, think it is more of an issue of lack of interpersonal training than anything on the autism spectrum. But she is a fictional character so what does it matter.
    I love that there wasn’t a whiff of TSTL or Mary Sue in the whole book.

  9. Emily
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 14:40:16

    Bones? cold demanding mother? I’ll admit Brennan has an overly formal and literal way of speaking but I don’t remember a cold demanding mother, although Brennan maybe becoming that mother.

  10. becca
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 14:48:59

    @Emily:oops, I think I’m confusing Bones here with Moira Isles from Rizzoli and Isles with the cold demanding mother. I’ve pretty much stopped watching Bones since the wedding – which is a pity because I loved the secondary characters. Brennan herself drives me nuts, though, and sometimes I just want to slap her.

  11. rachel
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 15:00:43

    Does anyone have recs for ‘non gruesome romantic suspense’ besides Nora Roberts? I’m not a big fan of rape, torture, child murder in my romance novels and it seems like so many romantic suspense novels these days have been going way dark. I like a twisty mystery or thriller but light on the graphic violence because I am a wimp.

  12. becca
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 16:04:10

    @rachel: Laura Griffin is pretty non-gruesome.

  13. Lori Green
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 17:25:15

    I’m really looking forward to reading this. I’m not a Nora fangirl but I tend to enjoy her stand alones and this sounds excellent.

  14. Carrie
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 18:09:53

    @rachel: For non-gruesome suspense–Jayne Ann Krentz, such as Grand Passion (and historicals under her Amanda Quick pen name), and quite a few Linda Howard books. Merline Lovelace has a fun trilogy starting with Her First Mistake. Jill Sorenson can be tense, but not graphic–she’s very good. I haven’t read many Elizabeth Lowell books, but she has the same feel as Roberts and Howard. If you like the military/SEAL angle, Suzanne Brockmann, Marliss Melton, and Cindy Gerard would fit. Julie Garwood’s contemporaries would also work. There are more, but I hope this helps. BTW, I agree with the Laura Griffin recommendation. She’s great.

  15. rachel
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 18:13:00

    Thanks so much Carrie and Becca! I’m off to put a dent in my credit card!

  16. kathleen
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 20:49:26

    If you like Historical mysOteries, there are several options. I really enjoy Rhys Bowen – she does an early 1900 NYC option and a 1930s England option.

  17. Tina
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 21:11:41

    Loved this one. It was a 5-star read for me. I usually read NR’s single titles matter what, but I can’t say I’ve raved about the recent ones. But this one was a hit for me. It is funny but Abby’s character is supposed to be remote and standoffish and yet I found her warmer than the last handful of NR heroines. I rooted for her like mad.

    I also loved the resolution of the suspense storyline, it avoided cliche neatly.

  18. apppomattoxco
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 21:47:01

    I listened to this in audio and really liked it because NR is a comfort read or listen for me. I love the dogs and beta heroes. I don’t like the DYI stuff that much and I think the romance between her H and can be kind of bland sometimes. But only if all you read is Nora. 80%of writers would’ve reformed the Russian mobster or made him the undercover cop hero.
    I have a question what was the name of Sunny’s puppy? Plato or Play Dough?

  19. library addict
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 23:20:36

    @apppomattoxco: Plato. He was named for the philosopher because Sunny felt he deserved an important name.

  20. Kaetrin
    Apr 29, 2012 @ 02:28:46

    I loved this one. Definitely an A read for me.

    I did think that Abigail accepted Brooks into her home a little quickly but I was prepared to overlook that. The plot held together well – there was a time when I was worried that it would have to end in some kind of disappointing deux ex machina but it didn’t – it made sense in the context of the book and the characters.

    I agree with Jane that I don’t think that Abigail/Elizabeth had Aspberger’s – she was socially stunted and awkward – from her mother’s weired upbringing, her accelerated learning and her distance from people as she was on the run for 12 years. I loved Brooks – his affable charm was like the masculine version of the velvet steamroller.

    I also really liked how he acknowledged her expertise and how when they went to try and solve the problems together, he promised her he wouldn’t do anything without her agreement – no “I know better than you” heroics. All of this was made of win for me.

    Like I said, a definite A.

  21. Diane
    May 01, 2012 @ 08:47:45

    I always enjoy Nora Roberts single books and this one was one of her best I have read.

  22. Lizzy
    May 02, 2012 @ 17:51:15

    @becca: I stopped watching it after the Pregnant Bones Goes Out in Tornado episode. I can believe all sorts of bickering and posturing, but I found it simply impossible to believe that a woman we’d been lead to believe was that intelligent would risk her life and her child’s life because she felt she had to be part of an investigation. It all felt foolish and forced.

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  26. Doll98Harley
    Feb 04, 2013 @ 14:36:23

    @library addict: Do you happen to know what breed Bert was? I re-read several chapters and then the whole book and either I missed it, or Nora just referred to Bert as a Big Dog. Since I love Big Dogs, and have a few fav breeds, would like to know what Bert was.

  27. Kaetrin
    Feb 04, 2013 @ 16:46:52

    @Doll98Harley: I loaned my copy to my mother so I can’t check, but I’m pretty sure Bert is a Bull Mastiff.

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