Fresh Meat: The Perfect Witness by Iris Johansen

The Perfect Witness by Iris Johansen is a romatic thriller about the daughter of a mob boss whose visions into people's darkest mark her for death, until a dangerous man helps her bury her identity and her gifts to survive (available September 30, 2014).

The latest romantic thriller from Iris Johansen delves into the supernatural with a main character that can psychically recall the memories of those around her. The novel functions as a thriller because of the fast-paced writing style that keeps the story moving. The author may have a background in writing romance that gets shown in the relationships her heroines develop, but her style and execution are all about expressing the feelings of being chased and unsafe. 

From the first page, the prose creates a tightened and minimalistic sense of tense intrigue:

She was bleeding…

The pain in her side was almost overwhelming.

Teresa could hear the three men behind her in the forest, crashing through the underbrush.

Run. 

No time to try and stop the bleeding.  If she didn’t get away from them, there would be another bullet, another wound.

Or death. 

She had been lucky to have seen them coming up the road toward the cabin and guessed that they had been sent to kill her.  She had slipped out of the cabin, but they had caught sight of her running into the woods.  She had heard Mick Judaro shout to Tantona when he saw her.  He’s been surprised, they’d thought she’d be easy game.  But she’d been waiting for them for the last three days.

Waiting for death.

Johansen unveils a plot laced with mystery centering Teresa and her paranormal abilities. Teresa is the daughter of the boss of a mob family—a man who has inexplicably been “taken out,” replaced with someone who is even more ruthless. Teresa has always lived under the thumb of her father, used mainly to advance his position by providing him with information garnered from her unusual abilities. Her father’s replacement, a man by the name of Camano, has taken over and is ready also to get rid of Teresa for her volatile psychic skills. 

Teresa goes on the run at sixteen, and a man by the name of Andre Mandak rescues her. Teresa has no way of trusting him—and how could she when she spent years of her life being used by others? Mandak is ruthless and kills the men pursuing her; he also promises her an out via a witness protection program. Teresa will have to change her name and move across the country, any trace of her former self being left behind. She can choose to trust Mandak enough to escape and live her life, or she can choose to distrust everyone and attempt to survive on her own.

Teresa’s life is at stake.  Despite the fact that Mandak clearly has his own agenda, she chooses to trust him and becomes Allie. 

Johansen develops the relationship between “Allie” and Andre as one that never gets perfectly comfortable. We come to accept Andre as a functional member of Allie’s life, if one that mainly exists to train her and help her work through her more repressed memories. As readers, we get invested in this unconventional relationship that is a mixture of distrust, sexual interest, and personal connection. The relationship between Andre and Allie is just unusual enough to add to the stylistic flair of Johansen’s suspense. 

The Perfect Witness isn’t pulling punches. Emotionally, the book deals with a lot of off- and on-page distress with its main character that further adds to the thriller.  Fast pacing, offset with traumatic emotional developments, creates a reading environment that is about upping the stakes with each chapter. Just when the characters begin to feel safe and secure, they encounter more problems.

It even works when the characters aren’t being immediately chased or hunted.  Some of these scenes occur when Allie is training with Andre. Andre posses his own type of supernatural abilities that allow him to go through a type of hypnotic therapy with her. Andre goes into Allie’s deepest memories in order to prepare her for the journey ahead, and the emotional results ratchet up the tension exponentially:

It was killing her, tearing her apart. All of Jokman’s memories, all of her own memories of that hideous night. She clutched blindly at Mandak, taking his warmth to ward off the ice. “Make it go away. Make it go.”

“Too late. I can’t do it. We have to ride it out.”

“Damn you. Damn you.”  She desperately clutched him closer.  “It…hurts.”

“Then let it go.” 

“I can’t. It’s strangling me, smothering me.” 

He held her tighter. “You’ll do it. We’ll get through it together.” 

“No, I’m alone. No one can help me.”

“That’s a lie. I’m helping you right now. You’re not alone.”

Was it true? She had always been alone, but somehow she could feel Mandak near her…

“I’m here,” he said.

In the darkness, in the blood, in the agony.

“There’s nothing you can do, nothing you can feel that will make me go away,” Mandak said.

The memories were rushing back to her, attacking.

Jokman’s skull was blowing apart.

“Scream. Cry,” Mandak said between his teeth.  “Let it go.”

The Perfect Witness creates an environment that emotionally entangles you as it creates a sense of constant chase. With Johansen’s hard, minimalist style, the resulting story is one of both passion and peril. I enjoyed the ride with Allie and Andre, and look forward to another dizzying, intense ride like The Perfect Witness

 

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John Jacobson is a college student that likes to get little sleep and advocate for LGBTQ/queer social justice.  If he had spare time, it would always be spent reading or watching nostalgic 90’s cartoons.  He’s a coeditor at Spencer Hill Press and has been a part of the publishing community for over five years.  He also writes for Heroes and Heartbreakers.  You can find him there, on Twitter @DreamingReviews, and occasionally on his personal blog.

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