The Lonely Witness by William Boyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received a free advance copy from NetGalley for review.
I'm from Kansas, but I think I may have developed a New York accent after reading this book.
Amy is a young lady living modestly in her Brooklyn neighborhood, but she used to be a hard partying Manhattan bartender. After her girlfriend dumped her Amy shed most of her once beloved vintage clothes and records and became a regular church goer who lives in a basement apartment. One of her volunteer jobs for the church is giving communion to elderly shut-ins, and one woman that Amy visits complains that her usual caretaker hasn’t been around in days but instead sent her son, Vincent, instead. Vincent has been barging in with the key and going into the old woman’s bedroom even though she asked him not, too.
When Vincent shows up Amy confronts him which makes him angry, but he leaves. Amy is worried that he might come back and that he may have have done something to his mother so she follows him around the neighborhood. Haunted by a homicide she witnessed as a teen that she was threatened into keeping quiet about, Amy continues to shadow Vincent until she witnesses a murder which triggers an odd reaction to it that kicks off a chain of events that involves several people.
I’m surprised how much I liked this book considering that it’s loaded with one of my pet peeves, a plot that depends on the main character regularly acting like an idiot. However, that usually bugs me because too often it’s just a lazy way to make things happen in a thriller, but this is one of those books that is either a character drama with some crime in it or a crime novel driven by the character drama in it. (Six of one, half-a-dozen of another.)
So it works here mainly because Amy is such an interesting and complex person. She knows she’s behaving irrationally at times, but she’s driven by both compulsions related to the old crime she witnessed as well as reexamining her life as she wonders who she really is. Adding to her confusion is the reappearance of the father who abandoned her as a child.
The other strong point is just how thoroughly William Boyle develops the Brooklyn that Amy lives in. There’s such a strong sense of place here that the neighborhood comes to feel like another vivid character, and yet it’s realistic and not sentimental. It’s so well done that you can do Google Street View along with Amy’s movement and see many of the locations mentioned in the book and they look exactly as described.
If you’re interested in a complex character study that uses a crime as a launching point then this fits the bill. Also, I didn’t realize this while reading but have since learned that this functions as a follow-up to Boyle’s Gravesend so now I’m adding that one to the to-read pile.
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