I don't put a lot of legal thrillers on my personal reading list, but you'll never find me passing up a Rebecca Forster novel. The mystery and suspense of each Forster whatwhywho-dunnit will keep you flipping the pages relentlessly, but it is the heart and realism of her complex, incredibly human characters (flaws and all) that make Forster such a special writer. You won't find a missive of dry, boring legal fiction here, as Forster's heroine, Josie Baylor-Bates, seems to find herself in one extremely personal case after another. Josie's a remarkable woman - tall, athletic, unyielding, and yet quite vulnerable. In Hostile Witness, she made the case of a troubled young girl (the daughter of an old college friend) accused of murder a personal one - and ended up becoming the legal guardian of the accused. In Silent Witness, she defended the man she loves from a charge of murdering his own step-son, learning many unsettling things about him in the process. You would think that's about as personal as a case can get. You'd be wrong, as Privileged Witness reunites her with her first love, Matthew McCreary, a rising politician whose sister (a sister he had always told Josie was dead) stands accused of murdering Matthew's wife. Such an unwelcome blast from the past is never easy on a person, and that is especially true of this case's effects upon Josie. Privileged Witness explores Josie's character to previously unplumbed depths, making it - in my opinion - the "deepest" of the first three Josie Baylor-Bates novels. I didn't like everything I saw Josie do in this story, yet I could understand her motivations. A lot of authors would just sit back and give such a successful character a free ride, a veritable hero's parade to a brave finish. Forster, to her credit, doesn't sit on her laurels, and the personal risks she takes with her heroine make for a truly absorbing read.
If you've read the author's last two novels, you'll know that Josie moved to Hermosa Beach some time back in order to pursue a quiet life as a lawyer, having given up high-profile (and high-income) criminal defense cases after a client she got acquitted went out and murdered someone else. Despite the best of intentions, though, she keeps finding herself in the spotlight of cases such as this one, which - among other things - will help determine the next Senator from California. As usual, Josie doesn't know what's she's getting into at first. When Grace McCreary comes to ask her for help, she is led to believe that the cops are suspicious of Matthew's possible involvement in his wife's death. It's rather a surprise to her when Grace is arrested for murder. Things only go downhill from there, as Josie is constantly blindsided by truths her client's family neglected to mention to her, the political maneuvering going on behind the scenes to save McCreary's crumbling senatorial campaign from ruin, a whole snake pit of McCreary family secrets, and her dangerous tendency to sometimes think with her heart rather than her head in this case.
Josie was not the right lawyer to defend Grace McCreary; her latent feelings for her former lover color some of her decisions and actions - and she's not the only one who stands to get hurt as events unfold. There's also a mad, cowardly, sore loser of a wife-beater out there threatening revenge against his ex-wife and her lawyer, which puts Josie as well as those closest to her in danger. Forster works this secondary storyline into the overall novel extremely well, I must say. Only the most remarkable of women could hold up under all the strain Josie faces from all directions over the course of this novel. There are really just a lot of things going on all at once here, and the drama of so many fateful characters really takes precedence over the legal aspects of the crime itself. You won't find a shocking courtroom climax at the end of this story, as it's far too tragic to end in such a commonplace manner. Forster is really expanding the boundaries of her fiction with this effort, and the result is her most memorable novel to date.