Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Book Review: WITNESS by Caroline Mitchell


Author: Caroline Mitchell
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Read: December 2016 / January 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

To Rebecca it was a brave decision that led to her freedom from domestic abuse. To Solomon it was the ultimate betrayal.

It’s been ten years since Rebecca’s testimony saw Solomon locked away. Enough time for the nightmares to recede, the nerves to relax; enough time to rebuild her life and put the past behind her.

Then one day a phone rings in her bedroom—but it’s not her phone. Solomon has been in her home, and has a very simple message for her: for each of the ten years he has spent in jail, Rebecca must witness a crime. And, to make matters worse, she has to choose the victims.

Fail to respond and you get hurt. Talk to police and you die. Ready to play? You have sixty seconds to decide…

As the crimes grow more severe, the victims closer to home, Rebecca is forced to confront a past she had hoped was gone forever.

My thoughts:

Ten years ago, Rebecca finally managed to get away from her abusive partner Solomon and start a new life. Now mother to young Lottie and wife to veterinarian Sean she lives a peaceful existence in the Welsh countryside belying her traumatic past, which she has successfully hidden from her family. Her life is about to change when Solomon is released from prison after serving ten years for murder. Rebecca knows that it won’t be long until he will come to find her – and seek revenge. But even Rebecca could not have foreseen what Solomon has in store for her. To save herself and her family, she must become a player in a twisted game he has devised specially for her. For every year of his prison sentence, Rebecca must choose a victim for a crime Solomon has planned, and witness it unfold – and therefore become an accomplice in his crimes.

In a market saturated with crime novels, it is difficult to come across an original idea that has not been explored before. In Witness, Mitchell has found the one element that makes her novel unique – the game Solomon plays with Rebecca to get his revenge for ten years in prison after she betrayed him and handed him over to the authorities. I loved the premise of the story, which makes Rebecca an accomplice in Solomon’s crimes, simply by being forced to choose the victims. Very clever! The idea is both confronting as well as thought provoking: would you choose your victims from amongst your enemies so you can justify that they will only get what they deserve? How sweet is revenge, really, when it comes down to it? There is so much potential in this idea and the ethical and moral dilemmas arising from it, it could have served as the single element of the whole story and still succeeded in keeping the reader’s interest. If only Rebecca had been a character I could have liked, wanted to understand, care for! Which is exactly where the novel failed for me – as hard as I tried (and I really did), I could not empathise with any of the characters. Despite insightful descriptions of domestic abuse that would make anyone’s skin crawl, Rebecca remained an enigma to me, and I never quite understood her motives or the torment she would / should have felt when confronted with her abusive former boyfriend once again. Solomon, the ultimate sociopath, was such a stereotype that his chapters didn’t ring true for me, and the book would have worked better if it had excluded his POV altogether.

I really wanted to like this book, because it had so much potential to be great, and Mitchell definitely knows how to write and build suspense. On self-reflection, I don’t think that I judge a book simply by whether I like the characters. I think I can deal with unlikeable protagonists, for example Paul Morris in Sabine Durrant’s Lie With Me, as long as I can relate to them, picture them as flesh and blood beings in my head until the acquire a life of their own, infiltrating my very being whilst the story plays out in my mind. Unfortunately, this never happened for me here. The one thing that kept me reading on, and pick the book up time and time again when I had vowed to give up on it, was the brilliance of Solomon’s “game”, which intrigued me until its final conclusion.

I realise that I am definitely in the minority here, my twin stars drowned by a tidal wave of 5-star reviews, which just goes to show that readers are individuals, with different tastes, preferences, likes and dislikes. This is why everyone should take my review with a grain of salt, and just as it has been intended – as my personal opinion only.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

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