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, but there’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.