Leading the Witness by Carsen TaiteLeading the Witness by Carsen Taite is a romantic suspense novel that surprised me.

Catherine Landauer is a defense attorney who’s determined to make sure everyone gets a shot at a fair trial. She’s known for having an unusual personal code, since she won’t take on any cases for people accused of hurting children. Maybe that code wouldn’t be so surprising if more people than just her therapist knew that Catherine had been kidnapped when she was twelve, but she changed her name and doesn’t talk about her past because she wants to keep it behind her. Catherine’s long-held secret has to come out, however, when the mayor’s daughter is taken and Catherine’s kidnapper leaves his proverbial calling card behind.

Starr Rio is a prosecutor with a reputation for doing what it takes to put the bad guys behind bars. When she’s asked to take the lead on the case about the mayor’s daughter, her sole focus is finding the girl before it’s too late. She’s not thrilled when Catherine Landauer gets in her face about it, especially since they’ve recently gone head to head in the courtroom. But when Catherine reveals her past, Starr knows she can’t just brush her aside, even if Catherine is hell bent on her involvement going way beyond acceptable procedure for a witness.

Somewhere along the way, their feelings shift from antagonistic to romantic. But can they really risk the case and proper procedure for their feelings?

The Characters

Catherine keeps everyone at bay, preferring space to any of the collegial camaraderie that other defense attorneys might find with prosecutors or police officers. But as we get to know her, we slowly learn the extent of her trauma, what happened to her when she was young, and the effects those events continue to have on her to this day. Although I can’t really connect with her willingness to defend some truly awful people, I still appreciated her motivation for her career choice, and how she wants to do her part to ensure the justice system works the way it’s supposed to. Also, given the extent of her trauma, and the way she relives it so they can find the kidnapper, I would love to know how she’s doing a year or two following the events of this story, after she’s had more time to process them, because she goes on one hell of a journey in this book.

Starr is much easier to like and connect with. She has the same motivation to see the justice system work, but she isn’t as closed off as Catherine, since she hasn’t gone through anything like what Catherine has. She doesn’t have as big a character arc as Catherine and that was fine by me, because there was already a lot going on in this book, and I was very happy with where things ended for her just the same.

The Writing Style

I started listening to Leading the Witness without having any idea what it was about. I don’t typically read books that involve child endangerment, so I probably would have passed if I’d known and, frankly, I nearly bailed a couple of times. I have daughters, so the subject matter hit a little close to home, even though I knew that the chances of something like this happening to one of them is blessedly slim at best. I’m glad I stuck it out, though, because I think this might be one of Taite’s best books. The plotting is solid, the pacing is tight, and even though the subject matter might be a bit tough if you’re a parent, it’s not overwhelming.

The Narration

I don’t typically turn up the playback speed when I’m listening to an audiobook, but I’m glad I did with Leading the Witness. For the most part, 1.3x speed kept it just right for me. Occasionally I forgot and wondered why Paige McKinney was speaking so quickly, but then I’d remember and have a laugh at myself.

The voices weren’t differentiated as much as they might be if Lori Prince or Brittni Pope were doing the narration, but I still had no issues keeping track of who said what and I was glad I listened to this one.

The Pros

I’ve pretty well covered what I liked about the characters and how Leading the Witness was written, so I’m not going to retread that ground. Besides those things, the standout element for me was the romance itself. Now, that might sound a little odd to those of you who have already read this book, because it doesn’t take up a lot of space in the story, but hear me out! I was about halfway through when I realized there hadn’t been much indication that Starr and Catherine would get together, and I thought to myself “oh man, I know this is supposed to be a romance, but I kind of hope they don’t get together. There’s just nothing there right now and I don’t want it to feel all shoehorned in at the end.” Friends, I was so wrong on this one. I’m still not quite sure how Carsen Taite did it, but she made me a believer, so here I am, eating my words. Yes, it’s near the end that they get together, but it still works really well.

The Cons

This is not actually a con, but I would have loved to have more time with Catherine and Starr as an established couple. After everything she went through, I especially want to see that Catherine is okay and has the happy life that she deserves!

Tara's Favourite Novels reviewed on on TheLesbianReview.comThe Conclusion

I’m so glad I never read the blurb for this book, because otherwise, I would have missed out on a serious gem. If you’re looking for a romantic suspense novel that’s heavy on the suspense and light on the romance, then look no further. And even if that doesn’t sound like your typical jam, I’d urge you to give it a try anyway. Leading the Witness is a thrill ride and it’s well worth picking up.

Excerpt from Leading the Witness by Carsen Taite

Starr wiped her mouth with the napkin. “Okay, you were schooling me when the food arrived. Care to continue?”

Catherine did a quick rewind and remembered what she’d been about to say. It felt kind of petty now since they were sharing food, but she didn’t want Starr to get the impression just because they were breaking bread they were no longer adversaries, although the way that Starr scrunched her eyes every time she took a bite of nachos was way more endearing than she’d like to admit. “We were talking about the trial. If the jury had found my client guilty, you and I both know an appellate court wouldn’t uphold the conviction.”

Starr crunched on a chip. “Not necessarily.”

“Did you know about the rope?” Catherine lobbed the question and held her breath. She wasn’t sure what she expected Starr to say. If she admitted she’d known Reese was lying, she’d be complicit as well.

“I knew the evidence wasn’t conclusive.”

“That’s a fancy way of saying you knew your star witness was a liar.”

“Reese isn’t a bad cop. Besides, we both know Knoll was guilty or he wouldn’t have taken the plea.”

Starr punctuated her remark by taking another bite of nachos, stoking Catherine’s anger. “Some day your methods are going to bite you in the ass.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Starr said.

“I do, actually. Everyone knows you like to bend the rules to get your way.”

“‘My way’? I think what you really mean to say is that I will do whatever it takes to make sure that bad guys like your client don’t go free so they can commit new crimes.”

Catherine took a drink from her beer and appraised Starr. She was passionate, for sure, but it wasn’t the kind of passionate protest that came from being overly defensive. She seemed to really believe she was doing the right thing. Catherine wasn’t sure if that made her more dangerous or less, but she was tired of talking about it. “Let’s agree to disagree. There’ll be plenty more cases to haggle over in the future.”

The frown fell away from Starr’s expression and she tilted her glass toward Catherine’s beer. “Truth. Here’s to future fights.”

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Bits and Bobs

ISBN number: 9781635555127
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Audiobook Publisher: Bold Strokes Books Inc
Narrator: Paige McKinney
Carsen Taite Online 

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Note: I received a free review copy of Leading the Witness by Carsen Taite. No money was exchanged for this review. When you use our links to buy we get a small commission which supports the running of this site.

Tara Scott lives in Calgary, Canada with her family. If you don't find her with her Kindle in her hand, she's probably busy talking about what she's currently reading.