New fiction featuring a female private investigator? And the author’s surname is Mackay? What a fantastic surname for an author. I, Witness is the debut novel from English writer and journalist Niki Mackay, who skilfully weaves four point of view narratives into a compelling modern mystery of sordid family secrets and familial abuse.
Six years ago, beautiful and wealthy teenager Naomi Andrews was stabbed to death during a house party in Kingston-upon-Thames. Her best friend, Kate Reynolds was charged with voluntary manslaughter. At the time, Kate confessed. But upon her release from prison she visits Madison Attalee – the detective who was first on the scene the night of Naomi’s murder. Chain-smoking, recovering alcoholic Madison is no longer in the force; she’s now a private investigator. Kate, driven by a desire to truly be free, tells Madison she’s innocent and wants her to prove she didn’t kill Naomi.
The novel opens with a gruesome scene from the past – the apparent suicide of a woman, who tells us she is a terrible mother. We soon learn the woman is Ruth Reynolds, Kate’s mother. I, Witness is grounded in the exploration of the mother/daughter relationships of its four main characters; Madison’s alcoholic mother and her own daughter who she only gets to see for two hours each fortnight, Kate who wonders if her mother ever actually loved her, Claudia Reynolds, who would do anything to protect her 3-year old daughter, and Naomi’s mother, Anthea Andrews, who has been changed irrevocably, unable to cope with the loss of her beloved daughter.
The story alternates between these four women, told in first person point of view. At first I was concerned that with so many points of view, one or more of the characters would be less engaging that the main characters, Madison and Kate. Not the case. Niki Mackay has written all four women with distinct goals and meaningful story arcs, and as a reader, I was rooting for each of them. Claudia appears to be the perfect housewife, but is actually the victim of domestic violence. She develops a friendship with Kate which gives her the strength to do what she needs to. Anthea is furious that Kate has returned to town and is hell bent on getting revenge for Naomi’s death; stalking Kate and breaking into her house, and it’s this unpredictability that makes her very interesting.
Perhaps secondary to the stories of each of these women is the mystery of who really killed Naomi. There’s a good list of potential suspects – several of them members of the dysfunctional Reynolds family, none of whom ever visited Kate in prison. Her father, James, is suspiciously absent, and all of the children have been deeply affected by the loss of their mother – older brother Marcus is a violent and unfaithful husband, and sister, Martha has been confined by her family to a psychiatric ward dressed as a spa. Niki Mackay deftly crafts the story in a way that each and every character has a role to play in the events leading to Naomi’s murder and in the subsequent happenings resulting in Kate’s arrest and imprisonment. The confrontation scene where the identity of the murder is finally revealed is suitably disturbing and dramatic.
I, Witness is the first in a series of novels featuring protagonist Madison Attalee and I was pleased to see a few characters from this story will continue into the next instalment, including her reliable and trusty assistant, Emma and a surprise addition to the team.
I, Witness by Niki Mackay is published by Hachette in Australia.
I feel a familiar stab, the pain that I can’t indulge or it takes over. I think of climbing my dad like a frame, of hugging him and thinking he must be a giant. I think of his face at the police station while they questioned me. How wretched he looked in court, pale and baffled. The last time I saw him.