Home > 2010, 21st Century, American Literature, Boyle William, Crime Fiction, Gallmeister, Polar > The Lonely Witness by William Boyle – an excellent thriller set in Brooklyn

The Lonely Witness by William Boyle – an excellent thriller set in Brooklyn

The Lonely Witness by William Boyle (2018) French title: Le témoin solitaire. Translated by Simon Baril.

With The Lonely Witness, William Boyle wanted to write a noir crime fiction novel set in his hometown, Brooklyn.

Amy Falconetti lives in Gravesend, Brooklyn. She moved into this neighborhood with her ex-girlfriend Alessandra and stayed there after they broke up. Alessandra decided to go to Los Angeles to be an actress, left Amy behind and never looked back. At the time, Amy was a natural blonde, wore clothes from the 1940s, was a party girl and worked as bartender at the Seven Bar in Manhattan.

After Alessandra left, she changed of life. She rented a small basement apartment to Mr Pezzolanti who consider her as his daughter. She became a brunette, a teetotaler, started to wear conservative clothes and now lives the life of a mousy church attendant, bringing communion to the elderly in the parish. You can say her lifestyle took a 180° turn.

One day, when she visits Mrs Epifanio, the old lady tells her that her usual caretaker from the church, Diane, has been sick and was replaced by her son Vincent. She didn’t like his snooping in her bedroom and felt that he was up to no good. She felt threatened, even if he wasn’t openly menacing. Amy understand Mrs Epifanio’s disquiet when Vincent comes to Mrs Epifanio’s while she’s still there. She finds him shady too.

Amy starts following Vincent, out of curiosity and for the adrenaline rush. Of course, she tells herself it’s for Mrs Epifanio’s safety. The truth is that her old personality is resurfacing, leaving her mousy devout new self behind.

When she’s on the prowl, Vincent gets murdered right in front of her. Instead of calling 911 and the police, she lets Vincent die, retrieves the knife the murderer used to stab Vincent to death and flees from the scene.

Now she has a murderer on her trail since she has seen him long enough to be able to identify him. She doesn’t know his name but she knows his face. She’s no longer safe.

She starts investigating Vincent’s murder and she enjoys playing Nancy Drew. She secretly loves the thrill of the chase, poking around, asking questions about Vincent, his activities and his whereabouts.

Amy makes irrational and dangerous decisions; she’s like a superhero who changes of skin, mixing her old self and her new one, to create a third self. She’s not as wild as she used to be. She’s not as quiet as she wanted to be. She’s an ex-barmaid to tried the skin of a church spinster. None of these personalities are real or fit her.

Vincent’s murder pulled the trigger to another transformation and she’s now on a new life journey to understand what the next stage of her life will be.

But let’s not forget that The Lonely Witness is a thriller. Boyle explores Amy’s inner struggles but he also moves the plot forward quickly. It’s full of twists and turns and it was hard to put the book down.

Brooklyn is a character of the book. As I said in introduction, William Boyle wanted to write something set in Brooklyn and his growing up in the area shows in the descriptions of Amy’s surroundings. He knows the place and the reader can feel it. Amy walks a lot and it’s an opportunity to describe the buildings, the streets, the shops, the metro and its weird connections. All the characters are Italian-American, we’re in the neighborhood of the film Saturday Night Fever. I felt that I was in Brooklyn with her and wished I could go there too and feel the atmosphere of the area too.

Excellent pick by Gallmeister.

  1. August 4, 2021 at 1:24 pm

    It’s a quite a skill to manage the character’s full inner life with the pacing of a thriller – very impressive!


    • August 4, 2021 at 9:54 pm

      He’s excellent, I just wanted to keep reading. Perfect holiday read.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. August 5, 2021 at 6:43 am

    Amy seems to make some odd decisions about her life. Forget about going from barmaid to church spinster, why would anyone interfere in the murder of a stranger? You didn’t feel her character was inconsistent from one iteration to the next?
    Interestingly, Wikipedia implies Boyle became famous in France before he did in the US.


    • August 5, 2021 at 7:21 am

      Amy sounded like a classic Noir fiction character. You know, when a normal Joe keeps a bag of money on impulse, or helps someone when theit guts tell them not to, etc. Her character felt right, she has her own logic.

      William Boyle is published by Gallmeister and the French love crime fiction. We have multiple prizes for them and several festivals.
      When I read Boyle’s Wikipedia page, I understand that Gallmeister published his first novel Gravesend, that he didn’t have a US publisher anymore and that his second book is only available in French because Gallmeister published it. And then, a US publisher re-published his first book and published his third one. Yay to French readers and to Gallmeister! 🙂

      It’s not the first time it’s happened. Benjamin Whitmer’s last novel, The Dynamiters, is only available in a French translation published by Gallmeister. He got raving reviews from major papers here. (check out his Twitter account, he doesn’t have an English Wikipedia entry, only a French one) I hope he’ll get published in his own language soon.


  3. August 7, 2021 at 6:39 pm

    There are some neighborhoods in Brooklyn that are definitely perfect as a noir setting! Amy might be a character that would drive me crazy, but an interesting one.


    • August 8, 2021 at 7:38 am

      Apparently, all of Boyle’s books are set in Brooklyn. I’d like to read his debut novel, Gravensend.


  4. buriedinprint
    August 9, 2021 at 6:27 pm

    I’m fond of NYC mysteries and novels in general and I suspect that the majority of what I’ve read has been set in Brooklyn. Noir seems to have a different set of priorities, I don’t think I’d expect the characters therein to be consistent, more to further the plot and introduce some convenient extremes (not that it sounds like you were too bothered by the strange decision-making either)!


    • August 10, 2021 at 4:37 pm

      If you like NYC mysteries, enjoy William Boyle!
      I agree with you. The Noir genre has codes and one of them is an ordinery Joe or Jane who goes off the tracks and makes stupid decisions on instinct. One first illogical decision and their life derails from its course.


  1. September 4, 2021 at 9:55 am
  2. December 21, 2022 at 9:31 am

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