A 2012 novel by romance writer Nora Roberts published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, The Witness is set in the imaginary Ozarks town of Bickford, Arkansas, a community that somewhat resembles the tourist town of Eureka Springs (Carroll County). Bickford is hardly ever mentioned by name, however, and its identity with Eureka Springs is tenuous.
The novel’s characters are what you might expect to find in a tourist town in the mountains: generous, family-centered Ozarkers gifted at story-telling and meandering conversation. They are also more welcoming to “Yankees” than small-town folk in other Roberts novels. Brooks Gleason, chief of police of Bickford, has come home after ten years on the Little Rock (Pulaski County) police force. His father teaches mathematics at the local high school, and his mother came to Bickford as a 1960s-era hippie. The Gleasons are enthusiastic gardeners. Brooks Gleason is attracted to a mysterious newcomer to Bickford, Abigail Lowery. She lives just outside of town with a greenhouse, a large, multi-lingual dog, and a dozen handguns strategically located throughout the house.
Supporting characters include Brooks’s siblings and local businessmen, politicians, artisans, and food-service workers, as well as an unhappily married alcoholic couple—formerly the star football player and the head cheerleader at Bickford High.
When a landmark historic hotel is vandalized by the ne’er-do-well son of the town banker, he attempts to intimidate Brooks into letting him off. But the major plot involves Abigail’s earlier life. In Chicago at age sixteen, she witnessed a murder by a member of the Russian Mafia. While awaiting the trial of members of the Chicago crime organization, she survived the murders of two U.S. marshals assigned to protect her. Twelve years later, she is living under an assumed identity in Bickford. She and Brooks must find a way to bring her safely out of hiding and punish the murderers.
The Witness employs conventions of the Contemporary Romance genre. It contains stock details and characters found in many of the hundreds of Nora Roberts novels. For example, leading characters have fairly ordinary jobs—computer programming, law enforcement, and teaching—although one of the main characters happens to be very rich. Abigail is the brilliant but emotionally stunted daughter of a controlling, ambitious mother. Brooks was named for Brooks Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles, the baseball team referred to in many Roberts novels. This detail is particularly apt in The Witness, since the real-life Robinson was a native of Little Rock.
Like romance fiction generally, The Witness was not widely reviewed in the mainstream press, although it was extensively covered on Internet message boards and other websites. But the novel was Roberts’s 200th book, and on April 16, 2012, the Washington Post published a long article by Nora Krug outlining Roberts’s career and its critical and popular reception.
For additional information:
Krug, Nora. “Nora Roberts’s Three Decades of Writing Have Led to 200 Books. Washington Post, April 16, 2012. Online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/nora-robertss-three-decades-of-writing-have-led-to-200-books/2012/04/16/gIQAxjsWMT_story.html?utm_term=.0471b100eb1b (accessed September 11, 2017).
Review of The Witness. Kirkus Reviews. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/nora-roberts/witness-roberts/ (accessed September 11, 2017).
Roberts, Nora. The Witness. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012.
Ethel C. Simpson
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
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