The Perfect Witness
Iris Johansen, who has mesmerized readers with her Eve Duncan series, now introduces fans to Teresa Casali. The 16-year-old daughter of a dangerous mob boss has a gift that she sees as a curse. When in close contact with others, she can read into their storehouse of memories. Her mother, Gina, has an aura of beauty and gentleness that she covets but lacks. She witnesses, both in reality and reading into his memory bank, the worst and ugliest of her father’s crimes. She is seen by classmates as a freak, a loner and even a troublemaker. She spends time in psychoanalysis, hating every session. Dr. Kramer tells Casali that his daughter can read into the memories of employees and enemies alike. Casali then exploits her talent, with Gina’s support, locking her in when she objects.
But mob life is rife with pseudo-bosses in continual leverage for the top job. Rico Camano is the mobster who rises to the top when her father is killed. Gina, the delicate butterfly, aligns herself with Camano, becoming his mistress but still professing to love and protect her daughter. Teresa hides in a family cabin in the woods, far from Camano’s reach. She knows too much about the man for him to let her live.
"Johansen, in her unique voice, gives such life to the characters in THE PERFECT WITNESS, both with intrigue and emotional involvement, that readers will find it quite difficult to put the book aside."
Johansen’s first chapter plows into the plot at breakneck speed. Teresa races through the woods to evade capture or death from mob thugs she recognizes as Camano’s men. A strong, physically appealing gentleman becomes her champion. He enters the chase, killing the gangsters and whisking the girl from her present predicament. Andre Mandak convinces the teen that he can give her anonymity, full protection and a new life as “Allie Girard.” She fights him, questioning his motives, identity and background. Mandak is honest when he promises that his talents can subdue her involuntary intrusion into memories. She can learn to control the gift, useful only when necessary for survival.
Johansen develops her characters with skill, leaving hints of motive and eventual re-awakening of Allie’s psychic power. Like her previous novels, Johansen delves deep within the human brain to explore unique qualities possessed by generations in a family. A secret ledger stolen from Mandak’s family becomes the tool by which he will enlist Allie to help in its recovery. Johansen thickens her plot when Allie’s new identity is compromised. Now a collegian living a normal life with a special and loving couple, Allie finds herself seeking revenge when mobster violence re-enters her life.
The purpose for which Mandak rescued her is now apparent. Not certain that she can or wants to apply her gift to help him, she waivers. Allie is a strong-willed girl who ultimately depends on her own reasoning and/or intuition. Unwilling to admit that she has developed a strong emotional attachment to Mandak that has opened her sexual awareness, she remains ambivalent --- that is, until evil forces unite that threaten them both. Allie’s mission becomes revenge against the killers who murdered the two people she truly loves. When Mandak’s purpose becomes intertwined with hers, she shows no hesitation.
From New York to southern California, from London to Tanzania, Johansen introduces new characters who will influence both Allie and Mandak by their aid and interference. The eventual villain, Nelson Praland --- from his heavily fortified compound in Tanzania --- is both thief and murderer, more ruthless in destruction than the mob boss Allie holds responsible for her tenuous existence. Praland promises an excruciating punishment for all who betray or threaten him. In his private chamber, he houses his ultimate weapon and is clear he will use it if displeased.
Johansen, in her unique voice, gives such life to the characters in THE PERFECT WITNESS, both with intrigue and emotional involvement, that readers will find it quite difficult to put the book aside. She makes us care about the young girl with the freakish talent. Normality is desired, but we want Allie’s gift to be awakened for the ultimate good. Mandak --- physically, emotionally and intellectually appealing --- becomes our hero. Both exhibit flaws but become the emotional vehicles that may cry out for a continuation of the series.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on October 3, 2014