Final Witness

Final Witness

4.1 10
by Simon Tolkien

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One summer night, two men break into an isolated manor house and kill Lady Anne Robinson. Her teenage son, Thomas, convinces the police that Greta Grahame, his father’s beautiful personal assistant, sent the killers, but Thomas is known for his overactive imagination, and he has reasons to lie. Thomas’s father, Sir Peter Robinson, the British minister

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One summer night, two men break into an isolated manor house and kill Lady Anne Robinson. Her teenage son, Thomas, convinces the police that Greta Grahame, his father’s beautiful personal assistant, sent the killers, but Thomas is known for his overactive imagination, and he has reasons to lie. Thomas’s father, Sir Peter Robinson, the British minister of defense, refuses to believe his son. Instead, he marries Greta and is prepared to testify for the defense at her trial. He will be the final witness.
Who is telling the truth–the new wife or the bereaved son? What will Sir Peter reveal in court? “Tolkien keeps us guessing” (The Washington Post Book World) until the shocking end about the true motivations of these marvelously realized characters. Final Witness is a masterly suspense novel by the grandson of legendary J.R.R. Tolkien.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A legal thriller ripped from tomorrow’s headlines . . . a remarkably skillful novel, brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed.”
The Washington Post Book World

People (Page-turner of the week)

“TOLKIEN’S WRITING HAS A TIMELESS QUALITY [and] the haunting undertones of other great masters of mystery.”
USA Today

Entertainment Weekly

Los Angeles Times

“COMPELLING . . . A TAUT PSYCHOLOGICAL LEGAL THRILLER . . . This Tolkien heir paces the steps and missteps of the legal proceedings perfectly. . . . A solid debut.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Neatly interweaving the legal thriller with the psychological novel of suspense, Mr. Tolkien has created a trial novel abounding with intrigue, distrust, and anger. Fast-paced and with suspense to spare, his debut shows admirable skill and depth and has a conclusion as surprising as it is satisfying.”
The Dallas Morning News

Publishers Weekly
A British teenager accuses his stepmother of conspiracy in his mother's murder in Tolkien's absorbing if uneven debut legal drama. The book pits 16-year-old Thomas Robinson against the beautiful, social-climbing Greta Grahame, who married Thomas's father, Sir Peter Robinson, a prominent politician, soon very soon after Lady Anne Robinson was killed. Thomas, who witnessed his mother's murder by two armed robbers, alleges that Greta was behind the killing. His courtroom testimony alternates with Greta's, and with a third-person narrative that at times contradicts both of the witnesses and keeps the reader in suspense. As Tolkien spins his tale, he explores the tense relationship between Greta, formerly Sir Peter's personal assistant and a working-class Manchester girl, and the well-born Lady Anne. The book is fast paced and crisply plotted, with Tolkien elegantly piecing together the different perspectives and introducing unexpected twists. Yet the characterizations are quite thin and stereotyped, and Tolkien relies on elaborate physical descriptions and heavy-handed, oft-repeated epithets ("green-eyed Greta" or a police officer's "sinister smile") to fill in the gaps. Readers may also be disappointed by the ending; after all those nail-biting twists, characters turn out to be more or less as they initially seemed, and tidy reconciliations strain credibility. Still, this is a promising first effort from Tolkien; one hopes that in the future he will be able to handle his characters as masterfully as he does the plot mechanics. (Jan.) Forecast: As the grandson of the celebrated author of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien will attract more attention than most first-time British thriller writers published in the U.S. Three-city author tour; 75,000 first printing. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This debut novel by the grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien combines elements of courtroom drama, family saga, and psychological suspense. Teenager Thomas Robinson secretly witnesses the murder of his mother, Lady Anne Robinson, and believes the crime's instigator to be the beautiful but working-class assistant of his politically prominent father. Said assistant, Greta, quickly becomes Thomas's stepmother, increasing Thomas's estrangement from both father and stepmother. Tolkien, an established and successful barrister, deftly interweaves trial scenes with flashbacks to the crime and to Thomas's attempts to prove Greta's guilt. Unfortunately, none of the characters are developed to the point of becoming interesting or even likable, and the extent of the father's betrayal of his teenage son strains credulity. Tolkien reads his own work but fails to enliven or invigorate it. This may be in demand by curious patrons drawn by the Tolkien name; otherwise, not recommended.-Kristen L. Smith, Loras Coll. Lib., Dubuque, IA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Standard-issue murder-mystery dramatics unfold in a world far, far away from Middle Earth. Yes, he's one of those Tolkiens. This being the debut novel from the 43-year-old London barrister-and grandson of the late, great J.R.R.-Simon is not exactly what you would expect, considering the family name, and that's most likely a good thing. Undoubtedly, there's another family member out there wondering why The Lord of the Rings had to end. In any case, Simon's first book is not about elves or magic at all, but rather something closer to Jeffrey Archer territory. Sixteen-year-old Thomas Robinson is the bookish and retiring son of England's rather imperious defense minister, Sir Peter Robinson. Lady Anne, Thomas's mother and Peter's wife, was murdered a year before the story opens by a couple of thugs plundering the ancestral manse. Only things aren't quite as simple as that. Peter's rather too-efficient personal assistant, Greta, had been hanging about the house quite before that, and Anne, being a sensible upper-class British wife, knew a gold digger when she saw one. Tensions had been running high, and Peter had as much as moved out by the time of the murder. To the horror of the already devastated Peter, Thomas accused Greta of the murder. All of this is laid out before the reader in a series of flashbacks that jump back to different points in the tumultuous previous two years and then snap forward to the future and the high-profile murder trial of Lady Greta Robinson. Thomas is obviously terrified, as the same men who killed Anne have already come back to the house once to kill him. There's nothing exactly wrong with what transpires here: Final Witness is efficiently rendered stuff, butthere's little to shout about. Tolkien knows his way around a courtroom, that's for sure, but that doesn't stop him from resorting to Perry Mason-like cliché if the mood strikes him. First printing of 75,000

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Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
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4.25(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.75(d)

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Chapter 1

My name is Thomas Robinson. I am sixteen years old. Today is Thursday, the sixth of July, and I am making this statement to Detective Sergeant Hearns of the Ipswich Police. I have made two statements already in these proceedings. Everything that I say is true to the best of my knowledge and belief, and I make this statement knowing that, if it is tendered in evidence, I shall be liable to prosecution if I have willfully stated anything which I know to be false or do not believe to be true.

I live in the House of the Four Winds, which is on the outskirts of the town of Flyte on the coast of Suffolk. The only other person who lives here now is the housekeeper, Jane Martin, who looked after me when I was a boy. My father never comes to visit me anymore.

My mother was killed in this house on the thirty-first of May last year. I described everything that happened in my first two statements. Two men came and murdered her. One of them had a ponytail and a scar behind his jaw. I was here too but hidden in a secret place behind the great bookcase at the top of the stairs. It was made for Catholic priests to hide in when the Protestants were searching for them hundreds of years ago. I hid there but my mother didn’t. She couldn’t because there was not enough time. That’s why she died.

The men didn’t see me, but I saw the man with the scar through the little spy hole in the bookcase. He was bending down over my mother, and I saw him when he got to his feet with something gold in his hand.

I remember his face more clearly than any face I’ve ever seen, although I only saw him for a second or two. It’s like my memory took a photograph. Small, dark eyes, thin, bloodless lips and a thick scar that ran down from behind his jaw into his strong bull neck. You could see the scar because he had his black hair in a ponytail.

I’d seen the man before. He was with Greta in London. It was six weeks before he killed my mother. I only saw him from behind, but I know it was him. He had the same ponytail and the scar.

Yesterday evening at about seven o’clock I saw this man again. For a third time.

Jane Martin goes to the town hall in Flyte on Wednesday evenings for the Women’s Institute, and so I was alone in the dining room eating my dinner. There are windows looking out to the front and toward the lane on the north side of the house. They were all open. I think I was listening to the sea and remembering things like I sometimes do.

I don’t suppose I would have heard them come if the television had been on, but I felt that something was wrong as soon as I heard the car pull up in the lane. We use the lane to go down to the beach, but nobody else does. It’s too far out of town and I wasn’t expecting any visitors.

They came through the door in the north wall just like they did on the night my mother died. They must have had a key. I saw them coming down the lawn to the front door. They were moving quickly, and there was no time for me to get upstairs to the hiding place behind the books where I’d hid before. I ran instead to the old black bench, which is beside the door going from the dining room into the hall. It has a seat that opens up, and I got in there. There are carvings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John on the front, and you can see out through the holes in their eyes. When I was small, I used to climb in there when I played hide-and-seek with my mother and Aunt Jane, but now I didn’t fit very well and I was frightened, very frightened.

The police have installed a panic button in the house, and I pressed that before I got in the bench. It’s connected to Carmouth Police Station and makes them come when I need them.

I was in the bench when they came in through the front door. There were two of them and they used a key. I’m sure of that. The one with the scar was in charge, but he didn’t have his hair in a ponytail this time. He wore it long so I couldn’t see the scar. He called the other man Lonny. They wore leather jackets and jeans, and Lonny was wearing a baseball cap. He was overweight and looked like a boxer. I’d never seen Lonny before. I’d say they were both in their thirties, but they could have been older.

They looked around the rooms downstairs for a while, but they didn’t touch anything and they had gloves on.

Then the one with the scar said, “Lonny, watch the fucking road while I go upstairs. The kid’s behind that bookcase where he was before. Greta told me how it works.”

Lonny came and stood really close to where I was, but I couldn’t see him because he was to the side of me, and the man with the scar went upstairs. It was really hard not moving, and I tried to hold my breath. That made it worse, and I thought Lonny would hear my heart beating. It sounded so loud to me.

About a minute later the man with the scar was back and I could hear anger in his voice, like he was getting ready to do something really bad. He wasn’t shouting though; it was almost as if he was talking through his teeth. And I can’t remember the exact words he used. All I can do is give the gist of them.

“Fucking kid’s in here somewhere,” he said. “Look, he was halfway through eating when we got here. He can’t have gone far.”

“Want me to turn the gaff over, do you, Rosie? I’ll find him for you.”

I could hear the eagerness in Lonny’s voice, like he really wanted to break something.

“No, I fucking don’t. I don’t want you to touch anything, you moron. Just keep a fucking watch and leave it to me. And don’t call me that again.”

The fat man went to stand by the front door. It was half open.

“Lonny the loser,” said the man with the scar. “He’s a fucking loser, isn’t he, Thomas?”

I couldn’t see him but he wasn’t far, and I almost answered because he said my name so suddenly and naturally, but I bit my tongue instead.

“I’m sorry about your mother, Thomas. Really I am. And I promise you that you’ll be fine. Scout’s honor, Thomas. Scout’s honor. All we want is to take you on a little holiday. That’s all. Until this trial is over and done with. Somewhere nice and sunny with plenty of foreign girls. Topless beaches. You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Thomas? So why don’t you be a good boy and come out and we can get acquainted.”

I could hear him moving about opening doors and cupboards all the time he was talking in this mock friendly voice he’d put on, but now there was a pause. When he spoke again, the hard edge was back in his voice.

“Too scared to come out, are you, boy? Too fucking scared. Want to play fucking games with me, do you, you little runt?”

He stopped suddenly, his voice cut off by the sound of the siren, and a second later they ran out the front door. They must have waited in the lane until I buzzed the police in through the front gate and then driven away without anyone seeing them.

I would recognize both these men again, and I would also recognize the voice of the man with the scar. It was soft and he said the bad words slowly, like he enjoyed saying them over and over again. I think he would have killed me if he’d found me. I really think he would.

Like I said before, I have tried my best to give the gist of what the men said when they were in the house, but I can’t remember all their exact words. However, I am sure about the names they called each other and I know that the man with the scar said about the hiding place that “Greta told me how it works.”

When I went upstairs with the police officer afterward, the door in the bookcase was standing half open.

I confirm that I am still willing to attend court and give evidence for the prosecution in the trial of my stepmother, Greta Robinson.

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Meet the Author

SIMON TOLKIEN is the grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings. He studied modern history at Oxford and is a barrister in London, where he lives with his wife and their two children. Final Witness is his first novel.

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Final Witness 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you started this book expecting something like JRR Tolkien's books, then you would be disappointed. I really liked this story. I did think the characters were a little one dimensional and not very likable. I also believe he will improve as he writes more.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Well written, not what I expected from an author named Tolkien. The style is not that of JRR, but one that is unique. I look forward to a next book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was probably one of the best ones that I have read in a long time. I've read similar books to this, and this ranks up there. It is very comparable to John Grisham in his prime. Great story, Great twists, Great writing. I hope that Simon Tolkien writes a new novel soon.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Tolkien's grandson introduces a typical PBS "Mystery" format thriller, although some pointing up on titles wouldn't have hurt. otherwise, until the end you don't know who will give away whom, which loyalties will hold and which will be destroyed, and what had been invented and what really happened. The image of the House of the Four Winds recalls a Art Exhibit touring in 1978, narrated by Charlton Heston, and room is left open for a sequel, at least to the hero of the tale, or even a prequel.
angelsrus More than 1 year ago
great to read something by another tolkien, having been a fan of the other tolkien. It is good to see that the family tradition is being carried on.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago