Putnam / April 17, 2012 / $27.95 HC, $14.99 digital
Daughter of a controlling mother, Elizabeth finally let loose one night, drinking at a nightclub and allowing a strange man’s seductive Russian accent lure her to a house on Lake Shore Drive. The events that followed changed her life forever.
Twelve years later, the woman known as Abigail Lowery lives on the outskirts of a small town in the Ozarks. A freelance programmer, she designs sophisticated security systems—and supplements her own security with a fierce dog and an assortment of firearms. She keeps to herself, saying little, revealing nothing. But Abigail’s reserve only intrigues police chief Brooks Gleason. Her logical mind, her secretive nature, and her unromantic viewpoints leave him fascinated but frustrated. He suspects that Abigail needs protection from something—and that her elaborate defenses hide a story that must be revealed.
“It all goes to character,” Nora Roberts said a dozen years ago in an interview for Publishers Weekly in which she explained that the jobs her characters perform and their motives for choosing them are central to her writing. This month Putnam will publish Roberts’s 200th novel, The Witness, and Roberts will once again demonstrate that her books are character-driven with plot stemming from who the characters are and the professions they choose.
Elizabeth Fitch is an academically advanced teenager, not yet seventeen, and reluctantly headed for her third year at Harvard and eventually a medical degree when her first act of rebellion changes her life forever. A makeover, a fake ID, a visit to a hot nightclub—it all seems fairly common for a teen determined to assert her selfhood, but Liz, as her new friend Julie calls her, ends up at a nightclub owned by the Volkovs, members of the Russian mob. The man who invites Julie and Liz to his house, a member of the Volkov family, is marked for extermination. Elizabeth is the only witness to what transpires that night. When the U. S. Marshalls who are protecting her are killed and the safe house blown up, it’s clear to Elizabeth that she is on her own, running from the Volkovs and the authorities.
Twelve years later Abigail Lowry buys an isolated home on the outskirts of a small town in the Ozarks and installs an extensive, sophisticated security system. The townspeople find her courteous but reserved. Brooks Gleason, Bickford, Arkansas’s chief of police, trusts his cop’s instincts honed during his ten years on the Little Rock police force, and those instincts tell him Abigail Lowry is in trouble. When he notes during a brief conversation with her in a local market that she’s packing a concealed weapon, he is even more convinced he’s right. Determined to be prepared for anything that could pose a threat to his town, he visits Abigail at her home.
Abigail does not welcome visitors. She is a skilled markswoman with an arsenal scattered over her house, a security system that allows her to view intruders on her TV or computer, and Bert, a bullmastiff (named for Albert Einstein), who understands a half dozen languages—all in place to discourage visitors. But Brooks is impossible to discourage. He ignores her coolness and brings her flowers, wine, invitations to backyard barbecues, and rawhide bones for Bert. Abigail’s casual sexual encounters ended at her word have prepared her for the easygoing charm of Brooks Gleason, a man determined to take care of her and who has the patience to wait until she’s ready to share her secrets.
Elizabeth Fitch dreamed of studying computer crimes and working for the FBI; Abigail Lowry is a freelance computer programmer and software designer, a job that allows her to use her prodigious skills in a way that is professionally challenging and satisfying and to maintain the reclusive lifestyle necessary for her survival. She believes in facts and logic and is awkward and uncomfortable in social situations.
The gregarious Brooks is a problem solver and protector. Law enforcement provides him with problems to solve and a community to protect. He is aware that there’s a story attached to the facts and relies equally on his head and his gut to guide his decisions. For both of them, the professions they have chosen are tied up with their abilities, their personalities, and their experience.
Not surprisingly, Brooks falls first. Attracted to her early on, he is more convinced with each meeting that Abigail is the one for him. He has the example of his parents, a hippie artist and a math teacher, to prove that opposites can enjoy a long, stable, loving relationship. Abigail is far more wary, slow to trust and uncertain that love is possible for her. But when their commitment becomes mutual and they realize her past must be dealt with if they are to enjoy a future, it takes the professional skills of the two of them to solve the problem. Abigail’s computer skills give them access to information they could have had no other way. Brooks’s problem-solving skills and a personal/professional contact give them the means of accomplishing their goal. Even the unexpected twist at the end that gives the couple their HEA and frees Abigail Lowry to become Abigail Gleason and to enjoy the life and the family she never expected to have requires skills both Abigail and Brooks have developed as part of their professions.
It’s a long way from a horse rancher and groomer (Irish Thoroughbred, Nora Roberts’s first published book) to a computer programmer and a cop—more than three decades and two hundred books. But Nora Roberts, the best known romance writer on the planet, has always known “it all goes to character” and work informs character. This book bears Witness to that.
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.