Final Witness: A Novel
Simon Tolkien
Random House,
304 pages, $24.95

Simon Tolkien admits that fear of being measured against his famous grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, kept him from writing fiction for a long time, but his debut novel suggests that good storytelling may be hereditary.

Tolkien, a London barrister, bases his murder mystery in the settings he knows best, the contemporary courtrooms and landscape of England.

He tells the story from several points of view, including that of Greta, a sultry personal assistant; her workaholic boss, Peter, who feels like the odd man out at his wife's family estate; and Peter's teenage son, the imaginative Thomas, who finds that his first sexual stirrings toward Greta quickly turn to hatred.

Like his grandfather, Tolkien builds his story around a ring—only this one is sapphire and bears a curse. Tolkien relies on fairly explicit sex and language as he explores the nuances of good and evil, the sometimes inexplicable ways of human relationships, and the consequences of choices that reverberate through generations.

The only wizardry in this Tolkien novel is in the author's capable writing and his ability to keep the reader guessing about the killer until the final pages.

Cindy Crosby is a frequent contributor to Publishers Weekly.

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