The Witness by Nora Roberts

The Witness by Nora RobertsThe Witness by Nora Roberts
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Published by Brilliance Audio on 4/17/12
Genres: Romance, Suspense

Story: B-
Narration: C+

Quick Review:

Front-loaded with the suspense storyline, this audiobook dissolves into a pleasant contemporary romance with enjoyable protagonists I was happy to follow along with as they fell in love. A socially stunted super-genius heroine and a relaxed almost beta hero combine with a tidy resolution to the conflict introduced at the start of the book to make for a pleasant read. The narration should suit most listeners although the very deliberate inflections and enunciation of narrative sections was problematic for me.

The Plot:

Nora Roberts’ 200th book (can I just take a moment to say “wow!” at that?) begins with sixteen year-old Elizabeth Fitch who has finally worked up the nerve to defy her mother. Dr. Susan Fitch is a clinical and cold woman who has orchestrated the ideal food, exercise, and educational regimen to raise a perfect specimen of a daughter and her only failure is in not ending up with one as beautiful as she is. Liz’s childhood (a misnomer since she never really had one) was loveless and her first act of teenage rebellion brings it to an abrupt end the night she creates a fake ID, sneaks into a club owned by the Russian mob, and is the sole witness to a double homicide. Secreted away in a safe house and guarded by U.S. Marshals, she’s ready to testify against the mob but when two marshals are killed and the safe house blows up just as she makes her escape, she begins a life on the run.

Fast forward twelve years to Liz living under the name Abigail Lowery in a small Arkansas town. Her work as a security specialist and her unceasing vigilance keep her occupied but not happy. When newly minted police chief Brooks Gleason catches a glimpse of Abigail’s concealed weapon, he pays her a visit to check out the reserved woman and finds himself intrigued with her. As he wages a quiet campaign to convince her to let down her walls and trust him with her secrets, his life is complicated by the reckless son of one of the town’s wealthiest men, who seems intent on sowing destruction everywhere he goes. As they become lovers, Abigail realizes the time has come to deal with her past in order to allow her to really live.

My Thoughts:

There’s a decent amount of the book spent setting up Abigail’s back-story but she’s the kind of character who needs some explanation. More lab experiment than child in the eyes of her mother, Abigail is a genius with almost no socialization skills. She started college early and is a computer geek with hacking skills. If you’re familiar with the TV show Bones and the character of Dr. Temperance Brennan, you’ll find an almost exact match in Abigail. Prone to taking people literally and speaking with a certain objective bluntness, she isn’t comfortable with emotion. This makes her gradual transition to “humanity” under Brooks’ coaxing teasing an enjoyable journey.

Brooks is a mellow care-taking hero with, as is typical in many Nora Roberts’ books, strong family bonds. The involvement of family in the romance is an aspect I’m particularly fond of so I enjoyed the part his mother and sisters play in the story. Brooks is protective without being possessive and the dance between him and Abigail as she learns to trust and then comes to love him is amusing and sweet. The conflict between Brooks and the town’s troublemaker isn’t so much a suspenseful or mystery storyline as just a part of what drives the story forward and Brooks and Abigail together but it is well-integrated to the whole.

The romance is sweet and there are several spots of the amusing dialogue I’ve come to expect with Robert’s writing. Her habitual shortened sentences in dialogue, use of nouns as verbs, and tendency to omit pronouns was far less evident in this audiobook. Overall a good story.

The Narration:

If you’re familiar with Julia Whelan’s narrations (or Sophie Eastlake’s – I’m 99% sure they’re the same person) then read no further – you’ll be fine with the performance. The delivery is very clearly enunciated with not-quite metronomic timing between words, which was not my ideal. That had an unfortunate effect on my sense of the events as ‘here and now.’ The same inflections in narrative were employed regardless of who was being described or who was thinking. This meant that when the bad guy was thinking “He wanted to f**k her” it sounded the same as when the male protagonist was thinking that about the female lead character which lent the narration a certain degree of ‘being read to’ rather than experiencing the story. The characters were very clearly distinguished and each character had a smoother flow to their dialogue. As a strictly personal preference, I wasn’t carried away with the male protagonist’s voice because he’s one of those lovely almost-beta heroes that Roberts writes and his light tenor combined with his care-taking instincts didn’t provide the contrast or “awwww” factor that a deeper voice would, something I prefer with that particular character construction. Abigail’s speech pattern was formal/stilted which worked to emphasize her characterization as a very unsocialized and cerebral woman but Ms. Whelan did an excellent job letting it relax as Abigail fell in love and the restrained emotion worked into her voice as she recounted her past to Brooks engendered more tension that the description of the original drama.

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