Review: Witness

By Simon Maltman

Link to Amazon:

Reviewed by De Gevallene, January 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.


There are altogether too many things that I like about this book. This book review would turn into a list if I ever started. Great characters. Great plot. Great setting. Great observation. Great writing. Blah blah blah.

OK, that’s done. This is a great book. Buy it. You’ll love it. If you are interested in motivation you’ll love it so much that you won’t even mind the inadequate proofreading (when was the last time that this dyed-in-the-wool pedant gave 5 stars to a book that hadn’t been properly proofread? Oh I remember: never.)

But this book really interested me. I’m interested in evil. (OK, it’s personal. Why do you think I keep up a blog for dark and dangerous books?) This is a book that explores the line between good and evil – or rather, it explores the exquisitely drawn impossibility of drawing a line. Both are baked in. Can you take the curate’s egg out of the cake before you eat it?

The problem of evil. The problem of human beings. Desire. Motivation. Self deception. Perhaps that above all. “The wrong thing for the right reason” or “the right thing for the wrong reason”? (I’m undecided about which of these is the greater treason. T.S. Elliot might not have got it right.) What I’m sure of (and I’ve worked with people who have done terrible things and I’ve loved some of them too) is that we are each the absolute hero of our own terrible story. We all have a narrative where what we do is right. Whatever we did, we would not have done it if it weren’t for that… It’s not a new idea. Even Socrates grappled with it, in his elegant reasoning around his much-quoted contentions that ‘everyone desires the good’, that ‘no one willingly does wrong’, that ‘only good men have the power to do evil’.

I hate to say this but….. (yes folks, I’m lying now – actually I love to think of my horrible old classics professors turning in their graves – I wouldn’t have them rest in peace) …but I think Simon Maltman explores this issue rather better and with greater grasp of psychology and frailty and contradiction than ever Socrates did. Pastor Tom is an absolute masterpiece of writing.

Now I am putting this piece together for a Blackthorn Book Tour. (I hasten to tell you, I did still buy the book; not quite for the right reason though I would like clever Mr Maltman to get lots of royalties – rather more because I don’t want Amazon to blacklist my reviews). Contributing to a book tour makes an interesting experience, especially if you can get in right at the end of the tour, having watched all your fellow reviewers wrestle with the same book over the same period. (OK, I wasn’t supposed to be right at the end, let alone two days late, sorry Blackthorn Book Tours, sorry Mr Maltman). But this book tour was particularly interesting, watching it unfold. There were reviewers who saw Pastor Tom as a pretty vile study in all that is hateful and despicable, and others who saw him quite sympathetically, as a likeable man torn between competing pressures. Some of those in the former camp were a bit alarmed because despite everything they found themselves rooting for him. I was a bit relieved by that, anyway, because I live with nice people who don’t do any of those things, and aren’t even so annoying as to call themselves Christian, and trust me, I’m an awesomely good person myself so I do hope those nice reviewers would root for me too…. but as I read Pastor Tom, I wondered if actually he was son, and my best friend, and my partner as well. I wondered if he was me.

This man of the Irish troubles is a difficult, dangerous, dark version of Everyman who I haven’t quite met before. And of course, it’s all goes horribly wrong, and it’s “carry on down….” I fear that’s everyman’s life.

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This review was conducted as part of a Blackthorn’s Book Tour. I purchased my own copy. This is my honest review.