I hadn't heard of Cath Staincliffe until last year when I saw so many excellent reviews of her novel The Kindest Thing which explores the aftermath of a woman's decision to help her husband die. She has also written an 8 book crime series but with The Kindest Thing and now Witness, her writing has an added dimension - the crime and its investigation no longer take centre stage.
Witness opens with the brutal murder of a teenage boy in Manchester. The story revolves around four bystanders who happen to witness the killing - Fiona, a midwife who suffers panic attacks following the murder, Mike, a delivery man who is torn between doing the right thing and protecting his family, Cheryl, a single mother who knows the perpetrators and Zach, a homeless young man who is hoping for a fresh start via a witness protection programme. As in her previous novel, the question, "What would you do?", is put very firmly to the reader.
I don't read a lot of contemporary fiction but I think Cath Staincliffe may very well have converted me with this novel. Written in the third person, each chapter relates the back story of each witness, how they came to be at the murder scene, how they are encouraged/discouraged re the looming trial. The characters are distinctive, all coming from different backgrounds but all have so much to lose by bearing witness. The author creates a very vivid picture of modern-day Manchester and the influence of gang culture, the sway held by gang leaders. We also see how difficult it is for the police to gain the trust of potential witnesses, trying to reaasure them that there will not be any repercussions.
Witness is an extremely readable, well paced story about ordinary folk in extraordinary circumstances. Each of the main characters is strongly delineated, realistic, filled with the same strengths and weaknesses as we readers and thus the author makes it easy for us to empathise with their dilemna. Looking forward to reading Cath Staincliffe's previous stand-alone novels and future writing from this very perceptive, insightful author.