Kendall Deaton awakens after a brutal car crash, grateful that she and her baby are still alive. After rescuing the man who was driving, she takes her baby and climbs up a steep ravine to find help. Once they are all safely in the hospital, she is told by the doctors that the man she was with has temporary amnesia from a blow to the head and doesn't remember who he is. Kendall claims the man as her husband, but also sees his lack of memory as the perfect means to escape.
One year earlier, Kendall had what appeared on the outside to be a picture perfect life. She had a handsome husband who was a respected member of their small community of Prosper, South Carolina, and she had her dream job. Although being the only public defender in town could sometimes be frustrating, Kendall loved what she did and enjoyed helping her clients get a fair trial. However, not everything was as perfect as it seemed in Prosper. Kendall received a very rude awakening to this fact, when she went in search of her husband one night and bore witness to an unspeakable crime. She could find no one who would believe what she saw, and soon realized she could trust no one either.
Now on the run for her life, she has no one but her "husband" to help her, but she doesn't really want the kind of help he can give. Kendall believes her best hope for survival is to disappear and live the life of a fugitive, but she didn't count on falling for her mystery man and finds it increasingly difficult to leave him behind. But when the men who want her dead finally catch up to them, she may have no other choice.
The Witness was my first read by Sandra Brown, and overall, it did not disappoint. The suspense/thriller aspect of the story was excellent. It did take a little while to get going for me, and during the first half or so, I didn't necessarily find it to be un-put-downable. I think this was mainly owing to the scenes in the present not being as compelling, due to the reader not really knowing what's going on. The scenes from the heroine's past, however, were very intriguing as the story built up to explain how she got to where she is in the present. The first half piqued my curiosity, but the second half had me on the edge of my seat, wondering what would happen next. The author also threw in a few surprise twists that I didn't really see coming. All in all, The Witness was a very satisfying read.
Kendall is a very strong heroine. She lost her parents when she was quite young, but was raised by a loving grandmother who taught her to be independent and to think for herself. She's an attorney who realized pretty quickly that the corporate life wasn't for her, so she took a job as the public defender in a small community in South Carolina. The author alludes early on to Kendall having lied to get the job, but exactly what she lied about is one of those twists I mentioned that the reader isn't made privy to until the end. Kendall sometimes lies about other things too. She's a consummate storyteller, who is good at making things up on the fly. I had mixed feelings about this part of her personality. I understood why she did what she did, and oftentimes, it was for the greater good. I also have to admit that her ability to lie served her well in managing to get away from the villains, but her dishonesty in general took a little of the polish off of an otherwise admirable character. I liked that Kendall was committed to seeking justice for her clients and providing them with the best defense possible. She hated to see miscarriages of justice and worked hard to prevent that from happening. I also like that she stood up for herself and didn't allow her husband and father-in-law to run roughshod over her. Kendall never lost her independent spirit which helped her to fight back when the time came for that. She also could have allowed the hero to die in the car wreck, which would have left her free and clear to make a run for it, but her conscience wouldn't allow her to let an innocent man pay with his life. Best of all, she was a excellent mother to her baby boy and would have literally done anything to protect him even if it meant making herself a fugitive for the rest of her life. Kendall may not have made it onto my all-time favorite heroines list, but she was a good one whose actions always made sense.
I can't really say who the hero of this story is without giving away a huge spoiler. His identity remains a secret for more than half the book, which is another reason why that first half was a little slow for me. I was eagerly wanting to know who he was and whether I could root for him. I suspected he was a good guy, but Kendall isn't all that enamored of him at first, which makes the reader wonder if he did something bad to her. The hero has temporary amnesia from a bonk to the head during the car crash, so he doesn't know who he is. Although Kendall does knows, she doesn't let us in on that bit of information through her introspections. The only information the reader is privy to is that Kendall alternates between being attracted to him and trying to ditch him. I had rather mixed feeling about all this. I guess it was a good ploy on the author's part to keep the reader reading, but at the same time, it made it difficult to have meaningful character development when the identity of the hero is kept shrouded in mystery for so long. Once we know who he is, I was able to become more invested in his parts of the story. While he was perhaps a bit too alpha for my taste, I admired his sense of duty and his commitment to protecting Kendall and her baby. Events from his past make him sympathetic as well, so overall, he was a pretty good character once I started to get to know him. I just couldn't help wishing it had been a little sooner.
The main thing that knocked off the half star was the romance. I felt it was on the weak side. Because the identity of the man who the reader assumes will be the hero remains a mystery for so long, it was also a little difficult to have meaningful relationship development between him and Kendall. During that time, she claims him as her husband, so there is some sexual tension between them. However, I thought it was kind of on the mild side, as were their love scenes, which were relatively short and not overly descriptive. They both come to the point of knowing they're in love with the other with little fanfare leading up to it. They share some nice, but not particularly emotional or deeply romantic moments before getting to that point. They also both lie to the other to some extent and neither fully trusts the other, which is usually a must for me in romance, but I guess there's something to be said for them still being together when everything finally comes out in the end.
One thing Ms. Brown excelled at was creating some truly evil and frightening villains. I don't think I've read a romantic suspense with villains this scary outside of Karen Rose's novels. On the outside, Kendall's husband, Matt, is a perfect Southern gentleman, but I could tell almost right away that he wasn't quite the catch he seems to be at first glance. Matt's father, Gibb, also possesses that gentlemanly veneer, but at the same time, is pretty creepy in the way that he's always hovering around Matt and Kendall and seems to have Matt wrapped around his little finger. It's also easy to tell that the men of the small town of Prosper are probably corrupt, but we don't know just how utterly evil they are and how widespread that corruption is until Kendall stumbles upon their dark secret and bears witness to something horrific. At that point, it becomes very easy to see why she was so terrified of them that she didn't even trust the FBI.
Overall, The Witness was a very good read despite the weaknesses in the romance. I did have a bit of trouble following things because the author jumps back and forth between events in the present and events in the past as she builds her story. Perhaps some chapter headers to indicate the time frame might have been helpful. As is, I had to read a few lines into the chapter to figure out whether it was past or present. Otherwise, I enjoyed The Witness and think it was a very well-put-together story. This may have been my first book by Sandra Brown, but it certainly won't be my last.
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