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Final Witness by Simon Tolkien


Rating: (Recommended)


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The first novel from Simon Tolkien, Final Witness, answers the question, “Can the grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien write?” The answer is yes. This novel presents a well-crafted plot, fascinating characters, great shifts in time at just the right places, and fine dialogue. Here’s an excerpt from chapter 8, pp. 58-9:

One Hundred and twenty miles to the east of the Old Bailey the boy who was figuring so prominently in John Sparling's opening address was standing at his bedroom window in the House of the Four Winds looking out over the broad expanse of the north lawn. It was a bright summer's day, and the sun shone down through the branches of the elm trees, creating a fantastic play of shadows on the newly mowed grass.

Due hundred yards from where Thomas was standing, the north gate of the property stood closed and locked. Thomas shivered as he looked at it even though his room was warm, even hot. As had happened so often in the last few months, Thomas could not stop his mind from going back to the previous summer, to the night of his mother's murder.

In his imagination, Thomas saw the man with the scar and his sidekick pulling up in the lane in the dark. The sidekick would have been driving, Thomas thought, with the other giving directions in his soft, cruel voice. Pushing through the unlocked door in the wall, Thomas imagined that they must have hesitated for a moment while the man fingered the scar running down behind his jaw and let his eyes run over the house, visible in the pale moonlight. Thomas thought of him in the moment as if he were a cat enjoying the defenselessness of what he was about to destroy before he set off across the lawn with the gun hard and metallic in his pocket. He knew where he was going, and nothing would deflect him from his purpose.

Just as it had done a thousand times before, Thomas's mind flew to his mother, sleeping so peacefully in her bed with the moonlight shining down through the half-drawn curtains. Sleeping in the same room where her parents had slept. Where her father had died looking up at the portrait of his wife on the wall. Where Thomas had often slept himself, driven by the Suffolk storms to find comfort beside his mother in the small hours. Life and love and death going on through the generations of the Sackvilles, until Greta came.

Hardly anyone had been in the room since Lady Anne's death. Sir Peter never came, and it was only Jane Martin who went in there once a week to dust, and she didn't stay long. She had not yet been able to face the task of disposing of Lady Anne's clothes. The dresses still hung in the closets just as they had before their owner's death, as if nothing had happened.

Thomas kept his distance. He had been determined from the outset to remain in the House of the Four Winds. He was his mother's heir. To leave would have meant defeat, and he honored her by remaining, but at a cost. Everywhere he went reminded him other. He tried to help himself by avoiding the front stairs and his mother's bedroom, but he often found himself standing outside his own bedroom as he was now, gazing down the corridor to the closed door at the end, remembering his failure.

Over and over again he'd replayed it in his mind. He'd had to shake her so hard to get her to wake up, and there'd been no time. He could hear the men downstairs. Perhaps if he'd been quicker or made her go in front, then she'd have gotten inside the hiding place and the man with the scar would never have seen her, never have shot her, never have taken her away. Put her in a black, wet hole in the Flyte churchyard.

Suddenly Thomas felt violently sick. His legs went weak and he was barely able to make it into the bathroom before he threw up, kneeling on the tiles with his arms bugging the cold porcelain of the toilet bowl. He retched again and again until he had nothing left.

Back in his bedroom Thomas tried to think of something good.

Tolkien provides rich descriptive language to make all the scenes vivid. The motivations of all characters are well developed, and intricately woven to keep a reader’s interest strong to the end. Treat yourself to a fine first novel in the form of Final Witness, from one who inherited the writing gene.

Steve Hopkins, February 27, 2002


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the March 2003 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: Witness.htm


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