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Josie Baylor-Bates had given up her lucrative criminal defense practice some years ago, after a former client, one she successfully defended on a murder charge, turned around and killed her own children. She retreated to the small community of Hermosa Beach and a nice and quiet little law practice. Then a former college roommate asked her to defend her daughter, a troubled teen accused of killing her step-grandfather, a justice on the California Supreme Court. That case, the subject of Forster's previous novel Hostile Witness, took a lot out of Josie and changed her life in many ways; she might not have gotten through the ordeal at all without the support of her ex-cop lover Archer. Now she stands to lose Archer, as Silent Witness opens with his arrest for the murder of Timothy Wren, his physically and mentally handicapped step-son, two years ago.
Josie now learns that there is a lot about Archer that she never knew. She knew he had been married before and that his wife had died of cancer, but the man she loves had never mentioned his wife's son or described the horrible manner of his death - a fall from an amusement park ride at nearby Pacific Park. He is less than forthcoming about the incident now, despite the murder charge hanging over his head. Josie, of course, insists on defending him, even when he says he doesn't want her help. Her plans for getting the charges dropped before the case goes to court are pretty much dashed when she views security camera footage from the park that shows Archer making a movement toward Tim just before he fell to his death. All of the self-doubts that have plagued her since her mother abandoned her at thirteen threaten to come to the fore as she struggles to formulate a defense and battle the twinges of doubt over Archer's guilt that sometimes pop up as the evidence seems to mount against her lover and client. She knows the case is much too personal for her, but she cannot trust anyone else with Archer's very life on the line. Archer isn't a big help, keeping information from her and doing a few really stupid things that an ex-cop should know better than to do in a situation such as his.
Josie steels herself to be Archer's lawyer first and foremost, even if it means losing Archer from her life when everything is said and done and the courtroom drama brought to an end. She is sure that the amusement park is hiding something. The charge against Archer only came out after Timothy's natural father, the man who had abandoned his own son and wife a decade earlier, sued the park for damages in relation to his son's death. Colin Wren, for his part, is something of a sinister character who soon casts his ire upon Archer, but Wren's attorney, Jude Getts, proves to be a big asset to Josie and her case. A number of additional fascinating characters weave their way through the story in memorable and oftentimes mysterious ways.
I have to say that, while I think this novel is just terrific, I didn't enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Hostile Witness - largely because the defendant in this case, Archer, is so hostile and secretive throughout his ordeal that he makes Josie's job even harder than it already is. Hannah Sheraton, who is now living with Josie and trying to put her tragic young life back together, was a very sympathetic character in Hostile Witness, but Archer is not - especially in terms of his rigid and in some ways heartless feelings toward the step-son he never wanted and never loved. Certainly, the pain dredged up over the tragic fate of Tim and the premature loss of his beloved wife Lexi are touching, but he's a hard man to really like. Additionally, the mystery of what really happened at Pacific Park on that fateful day doesn't leave room for the sorts of conundrums that wound their way through every page of Hostile Witness. That being said, the novel really goes into overdrive the final one hundred pages and closes with a real bang.
Legal thriller fans should find themselves entranced by this novel. Forster has amazing skill at breathing real life into her characters, including both the good and bad inside each of them, and she is meticulous at leaving no loose ends hanging from the story she weaves. Nor does she give anything away too early, keeping readers alert and guessing until the end. It's a winning formula sure to impress and fascinate fans of legal thrillers.