I haven't read many legal thrillers in the past few years, but I think I am going to have to add more books of this genre to my future reading list - especially those written by Rebecca Forster. Hostile Witness is just a fantastic, completely absorbing read, the kind of book that makes you hate your job because having to get up early for work means having to set the novel aside in the wee hours of the morning just so you can get a few hours of sleep. Any thriller is best judged by the number of hours' sleep you miss, and Hostile Witness is right up there with the best of them.
Usually, legal thrillers have a few passages that are dry and boring or feature cardboard characters lacking any spark of life in them. Not so with Hostile Witness. Forster has given life to some vivid, remarkably human characters - the heroic, sympathetic lawyer who puts a painful past behind her to defend a young girl accused of arson and murder; the 16-year-old defendant, a troubled teen lost in emotional chaos and harboring shocking secrets, the girls' seriously dysfunctional mother and step-father seemingly hiding behind mysterious secrets of their own, the hard-nosed yet somehow slightly noble prosecuting attorney, even the victim himself, a man already dead when the novel begins.
The protagonist of the novel is Josie Baylor-Bates, a lawyer who finds herself back in the criminal defense game she left some years ago. Not only is she still dealing with the pain of being abandoned by her mother when she was just a young girl, she is haunted by an old case. An accused murderer she successfully defended (and truly believed to be innocent) turned around and killed again - only this time it was her own children. The sense of guilt that tragedy engendered in Josie led her to abandon criminal defense cases altogether and settle down in a quiet beach community with a quiet little legal practice. Then an old college roommate turns up at her door and begs her to defend her daughter. This will be no ordinary case; it will, in fact, explode all over the media. The girl, Hannah Sheraton, is accused of killing her step-grandfather, a man who just happened to be a prominent justice on the California Supreme Court. In the middle of everything is Hannah's step-father, the governor's choice to take his father's place on the high bench. The case has media circus written all over it - even before a series of shocking revelations about the murdered judge come to light, but Josie agrees to take the case after meeting Hannah. She sees a little bit of herself in the young girl, a frightened lass with deep emotional troubles manifested outwardly in obsessive-compulsive behavior, self-mutilation, and a powerful overdependence on her mother.
Convinced of her client's innocence, Josie's defense of the girl runs into a number of obstacles, including the girl's own mother and step-father, neither of whom, Josie comes to believe, has Hannah's best interests at heart. All too soon, this case has become intensely personal for Josie, and that leads her to question her own motivations. Forster does a wonderful job of developing these characters, showing you increasingly significant cracks in their facades while holding out on the goods until the very end. You have your suspicions, but you just don't know the truth about what is really going on and who is really responsible for the victim's death until the very end.
The novel's most memorable moments take place inside the courtroom, culminating in some unforgettable moments of witness testimony, but the case takes drastic turns (more than once) away from all the cameras and watching eyes. It's an emotional roller coaster for Josie, trying to deal with her own personal baggage alongside the heavy burdens placed upon her by Hannah's incredibly dysfunctional family and the intense pressures of such a high profile trial. A wondrously human heart beats inside the chest of this particular lawyer, though, and that - plus a beautifully constructed plot - is what makes Hostile Witness a novel you just can't put down.
on May 26, 2004
I like a good deal. You know how when you go to the grocery store and you find your favorite cereal is buy one get one free, you almost feel like you've won some sort of lottery. Now, you know the store has upped the base price of the cereal, but you still snatch it up and through it your cart. There is a great feel to a two for one deal. That's how I have always felt about a good courtroom drama. You're getting two dramas for the price of one. The first drama is outside the courtroom. The incident, the lives affected, secrets, conspiracies and so much more pepper the events leading up to a trial. Then the trial, the legal maneuverings, the back room deals, the attorneys and judges, you can't get much better than that.
Recently there has been more and more legal thrillers that forgo the courtroom. The lawyer turned detective who solves the mystery without even filing a motion. While these books are often quite entertaining, I sometimes feel like I missed something. In Hostile Witness by Rebecca Forster we get the whole enchilada.
Josie Baylor-Bates is a talented yet flawed attorney. Tortured by her past and by her success as a criminal defense attorney, all Josie wants now is to settle into a small neighborhood practice taking care of wills and eveyday legal problems. Then her old college roomate Linda Sheraton shows up at her door, her daughter having just been arrested for the murder of her step-grandfather, a California Supreme Court Justice. This was exactly the kind of high profile case that Josie wanted to avoid. Josie's intentions were to meet with the girl, get her through the bail hearing then hand her off to a qualified attorney, but after meeting with Hannah she can't get the image of the beautiful yet troubled girl out of her head. Putting everything at risk, her new practice, her relationship with her boyfriend and even her life, Josie takes on the case with a passion. A passion for a girl everyone believes is guilty.
Hostile Witness is more than just a legal thriller. It is a story of motherhood and abandonment, both physical and emotional. It is also the launch of a new series with an intriguing new protagonist. Like Ben Kincaid or Dismas Hardy, this is a character that you'll want to follow. Along with a strong and complicated hero, Forster creates an intriguing cast of peripheral characters. Archer, the solid as a rock boyfriend and private investigator. Rudy Klein, the honest and well intentioned prosecutor and Hannah the troubled young girl stuck in the eye of the tornado. These characters are the glue that hold this story, and most likely future entries into this series, together.
Hostile Witness is an excellent start of an interesting new series. The pace was brisk and readable. The story sucks you in immediately, and the ending is full of thrills and surprises. For anyone who reads this novel, I suggest after completing it going back to reread the first couple of chapters. Doing this will show you how truly well this book was put together.
on September 19, 2011
It helped that this book was free on Kindle when I ordered it... I had very mixed feelings about this novel. Some of the characters and narrative were done quite well, but there were a number of places where key scenes made no sense whatsoever. During a trial, for example, the main character (defense lawyer) began asking a hostile witness detailed questions about things that happened to him at specific ages ("Isn't it true that, when you were 6, such-and-such happened?"). The lawyer had just been told some vague information about the witness by someone who was unlikely to have known even the vaguest of details, yet seemed to have gleaned all this information from a brief conversation.
The book is also in dire need of a spell-checker and proofreading to correct confusing sentence structure and peculiar punctuation.
The "bad guys" (and there were several) were all unbelievable. The protagonists, however, were sympathetically drawn.
All in all, I doubt I'll read any of the other titles in this series. Hopefully, the author has since started working with a better editing and proofreading team, since she does seem to have some talent for writing and is probably capable of creating a much better novel than this one.
on April 5, 2010
Plot/Storyline: 4 Stars
The plot was refreshingly surprising in a few areas. While I thought I knew where it was going, it differed just enough to deliver that mild "Oh, okay, that's not quite what I expected" moment.
I have to admit that I knew who the killer was halfway through the book. That didn't really bother me as I still had enough doubt to make me want confirmation at the end.
I found the novel wanting in the interactions between Josie, the attorney and main character, and Hannah, the young defendant. There just didn't seem to be enough conversation between them. I understand Josie, as a defense attorney, not wanting to ask, or even know, if her client is guilty, in order to give a good defense. However, I would have thought that she would have at least wanted to hear Hannah's account of the events of that night. If nothing else, she would need to hear it to decide if Hannah should testify on her own behalf. But, the conversations between them were kept to a bare minimum, so much so that I found it very dubious that Hannah felt such a connection with Josie.
The book goes off course a few times when it switches to other people's viewpoints. I found that completely unnecessary to the story. It appeared to be a very forced way to try to keep up the suspense. Unfortunately, when portions of a story are told from other viewpoints in a mystery, I always feel like those sections are `fake'. For instance, if a novel switched to the viewpoint of a killer, telling you all of his or her thoughts, and the person never thinks about the killing at all, well, then, we didn't really get all of their thoughts, did we? I don't think people drop little clues to themselves in their own thoughts.
The switching of viewpoints was not done smoothly, either. Many times it was very abrupt, occuring in the middle of a scene.
Character Development: 4 3/4 Stars
Josie was very well developed in that we learned a lot about her. Unfortunately, the method of development was often her thinking the same recurring thoughts ad-nauseum. Okay, she was worried this case was like her old one. We got that. No need to beat a dead horse. Her transitional decision to represent Hannah, instead of referring her, which was the initial plan, was never really explained, but it was still in character. Overall, though, she was pretty likable, and I will enjoy reading more about her in this series.
Hannah was a very interesting character that created lots of empathy. In some scenes, you can really feel her pain.
Linda and Kip, Hannah's mother and step-father, were unlikable from the beginning. However, that was intended and fitting for the novel.
Writing Style: 5 Stars
The sentence structuring was terrific, making for a nice, easy read, without being too elementary. The descriptions were good, if a little overdone at times. The dialogue was believable.
Formatting/Editing: 3 Stars
There were quite a few editing issues, mostly missing words and punctuation.
The formatting suffered with chapters not beginning on new pages and odd spacing issues.
Rating: PG-15 for Child Abuse and Violence
on January 28, 2013
Granted, it's been a few months since I attempted to read this so I'm not crystal clear on the details and I can't go back to the book because I deleted it. (A few times - not sure why Amazon can't actually DELETE an item the first try)
I normally try very hard to give a book a chance. I know some can take 50 pages or so to get going. So, I kept trying. But I really just never felt that I had a sense of the characters, the story, the relationships... Nothing hooked me.
BUT, quite a bit turned me off. I found the style extremely off-putting. It was unnecessarily crude. Mind you, I can cuss out a sailor if need be, but that's got a place and purpose. The writing in this book... Well, let's say that I agree with some who've said that the writing is amateurish, at best. I'm pretty sure I could have done better as a teen. The absolute last straw for me was (and, I've deleted the book, so I can't give an exact quote or location, but it had to have been fairly early in the book, since I deleted it before I ever got to the story, assuming there ever was one), was an unnecessarily crass description of someone which included "come-f***-me shoes" and it was at that instant that I deleted the book. (Well, attempt #1, at any rate.) I just found that offensive. (Remember - sailor - black belt in profanity... It's not like cussing makes me swoon.) Really, it just struck me SO wrong, maybe because the book had been such a tedious read up to that point.
This is one of those rare cases where free is much too high a price tag for the item. Huge disappointment.
P.S. I just got an email from Amazon rejecting my review -- for the very language I was quoting from the author of this book as being objectionable!!!! (Edited my review to replace the letters "uck" with "***". We'll see if this one flies. Geez...)
Guess that strengthens my point, huh?
on April 7, 2012
Luckily I downloaded this novel free so at least I don't feel I've been ripped off. I think the author had a great premise and the plot showed some real promise; but the thinly developed characters, disjointed construction, typos, grammatical errors, and hackneyed phrases finally got to me. I ceased hoping the book would improve and gave up at the 26% mark.
I read some of the other 1 star reviews and agree with most of them, except for those which found the novel flawed simply due to course language. I couldn't care a whit about four letter words liberally used in a well-constructed book. This assemblage of words doesn't appear to have even been proof-read before it was sent off for publishing.
on April 15, 2012
I am beginning not to trust the Amazon reviewers. I cannot imagine why someone would have given this book 4 or 5 stars. It is childishly written, the plot is so simplistic that I cringed and the character development (if there is any and if it can be called that)is what you would expect from a 14 year old writing this story, not an adult. I read as far as I could, 10%, and there was no need to continue as I could not stomach any longer the stereotyped, cliched characters and images and just plain silly dialogue.
on April 3, 2012
Sadly, very unrealistic. As a former (civil) trial lawyer myself, I expected better research into the trial process and what passes for evidence. Very disappointing when a book is called a "legal thriller" but lacks basic insight into courtroom procedure.
on June 7, 2012
I know a few authors so my review is a meant as positive recommendation to Ms Forster in the hope that she can improve her craft. The story reads like it is aimed at teenagers and the plot is quite simplistic for this genre and very cliched. Character development is off the mark for a story like this and the writing and grammar needs attention also. This might appeal to some (as we can see by the positive reviews) but I couldn't get past about the first 20 pages. Sorry.
on September 20, 2011
Only good thing to be said about this book was that it was a freebie on Kindle. At least I didn't waste good money on this garbage.
If the really impossible plot, hackneyed and over-stereotyped characters weren't enough, the book is replete with typos and grammatical errors that make me conclude the author is either illiterate or so eager to crank out an immediate hit in no speed whatsoever that she never bothers to edit beyond the first draft stage.
When I see a courtroom quote like "Yes, you're honor" I begin to have serious doubts.
Don't bother wasting neuron cycles on this trash.