Title: The Perfect Witness
Author: Susanna Beard
Published on: 30 March 2022
Genre: Mystery and Thriller
Then: Ten-year-old Daniel witnesses the murder of his friend Ryan and the body is dumped into the canal. The killer is Ryan’s dad. Terrified of being the next victim and scared that the police will not believe him, Daniel keeps the crime he witnessed to himself.
But his growing years were not easy. He was often haunted by the ‘nightmare.’ Numerous therapy sessions did not help him either. Staying at one job for a long time was troublesome as Daniel found himself lost in his own world. Nobody understood him. Nobody except his younger sister Lauren.
Now: Daniel is laid off of his job, his girlfriend breaks up with him and his landlord asks him to vacate the flat within a month. All these in just one day and Daniel has reached a breaking point. Maybe there is no point in living a hollow life… His sister Lauren helps him for a few days and then suggests he move to their parents’ house. The house brings back memories – especially those of his childhood. Daniel decides the only way to come out of this mess is to find the truth. Go on a walking trip along the canal side and try to search the boat that once housed Ryan. So off goes Daniel in search of the dreaded Golden Serpent, a narrowboat that was the starting point of his nightmares.
“What I mean is, I have a perfect memory. I remember everything that’s happened in my life since I was ten. And the memories are exact. If you were to give me a date, any date from maybe ten years ago, I could tell you exactly what I was doing on that day, every minute of the day. What I was wearing, who I saw, what the weather was like, what I had for lunch. In minute detail. It’s hard to believe, but I promise you, I’m not making it up.”
The story begins with Daniel going to work and seeing a post-it on his computer screen. His boss wants to have a word with him at 5pm. When the hour approaches, Daniel learns he’s being laid off. The boss is trying to be polite enough by saying Daniel is always distracted and he’s not a good fit for the company. Daniel arrives at his flat to see his girlfriend sitting on the stairs. He forgets they were supposed to go out for dinner. This is not the first time Amber’s been let down by Daniel. She breaks up with him and walks away.
The next day, Daniel’s landlord arrives with an envelope. He wants Daniel to vacate the flat within a month. Completely lost and feeling hopeless, Daniel calls his sister Lauren and tells her he finds no point in living. She comes over and consoles him, and asks him to move in with her until he finds another job. But days turn to weeks and Daniel struggles to perform his daily routine, forget searching for a job. Lauren feels sad for her brother but has reached a limit for tolerating his helplessness. She asks him to move in with their parents for a while.
Moving in with his parents seems like an eye-opener of sorts as Daniel decides the thing that’s been bothering him since he was ten should be put to a stop. And that can happen only when Daniel goes in search of the truth. When Daniel was ten, he witnessed his friend’s murder. Fast forward to the present, Daniel is twenty-nine and wants to find a boat named Golden Serpent – same boat on which Ryan was killed. Daniel decides to go on a walking trip along the banks of the canal in search of the boat.
Poppy decided to stay with her parents and look after her gran. This wasn’t an easy decision for Poppy but when her gran was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she wanted to do her best to help out. Poppy also works part-time at the local pet rescue center. After her gran’s death, Poppy finds love in a three-legged puppy. She takes him home. She’s still not recovered from losing her gran so she decides to go on a walking trip along the banks of the canal.
The first half of the book alternates between Poppy and Daniel and their struggle to come to terms with whatever life has offered them. Both decide to go on a walking trip. The second half of the book is more of the search for Golden Serpent and the ‘bad luck’ it brings to both parties (Daniel and Poppy).
Halfway through the story, Poppy ends up with painful blisters that pauses her walk for a bit and that is how she meets Daniel. When Daniel tells her about his quest, she wants to help him. Initially, Daniel agrees but when they come closer to finding the boat and facing Ryan’s dad (the killer), Daniel feels responsible for Poppy. He doesn’t want her to be harmed in any way, after all, it is his quest, not hers.
The Perfect Witness is a tad different from the psychological thrillers I have read so far. I would say, the story is more of a domestic thriller type. There’s also a bit of ‘finding oneself’ by venturing into the past experiences – a shadow work of sorts. The second half gets murkier and darker, especially when Daniel and Poppy face hurdles.
I was hooked on to the story and could not put it down until the end. I read the book in one sitting – it was that engrossing! I liked the psychological aspects the author has brought about – mental health and how childhood trauma affects one in their adult life too. In a way, we all are on a quest, aren’t we? Sometimes, we have to pause and reflect before moving ahead. And that is what the two characters of this book – Daniel and Poppy do. Pause and try to heal the wound from their past so that it doesn’t affect what’s to come next.
The Perfect Witness by Susanna Beard is a gripping and completely engrossing thriller. If you are on the look for a nail-biting read, you might want to give this book a try.
Many thanks to the lovely Hanna from Joffe Books for the ARC. This is my honest and unbiased opinion.