Sunday, April 30, 2006

Star Witness by Lia Matera

Star Witness finds attorney Willa Jansson ready to go on vacation from the prestigious law firm for which she works. Then a late-night call sends her to Santa Cruz, a hippie-town in California. The call Jansson receives is from Fred Hershey. Fred is the brother of Edward, a man Willa once loved, and he is calling in a favor that Jansson owes him. A psychiatrist, Fred has a patient with an odd story who needs a lawyer.

Jansson does not want to go and tries to plead her way out of it by explaining that she is on vacation and that she works in civil matters, not criminal. Still, the favor she owes Fred is a big one, so she must repay it. The case, though, turns out to be one that is far more bizarre than she could have imagined.

Her client is a man with a doctorate in mycology. He studies mushrooms for a living, and he is accused of killing someone. His car, a cute little Fiat, landed directly on top of a Buick and killed the man who was driving it. The odd part is that Alan was not in the car, and he does not remember the event. Fred is called in by the prosecutor because Alan seems out of sorts, and the two agree to a hypnosis session. During that session, Alan recounts in terrifying detail the story of an alien abduction.

Jansson does not believe in aliens or UFOs and completely dismisses the story. Still she is drawn in by her lawyerly instincts. The prosecution has no evidence. Alan was not in the car. In fact, he was not found anywhere near the scene. He has injuries, but they are not consistent with a car crash; they are, however, consistent with his abduction story. There are no tire prints, and there is no logical explanation for how the accident would have occurred as it did.

Jansson is unsure about the defense but decides to take the case anyway. She ends up embroiled in a battle about space exploration and finding out what really happened to her client that night. Lia Matera, who weaves this story of Jansson and her case, brings in various UFO theories and presents an interesting image of the study of alien life and the people who believe in it.

The book itself is not about aliens, and Matera takes no stance one way or the other although she certainly leads the reader to believe that aliens did nab Alan that fateful night. The story also includes the common elements of a legal thriller. Betty Adenaur, who was widowed by the accident, loses her mind. She tries to shoot Alan, Willa, and one of the witnesses before she decides to turn the gun on herself.

The story also includes Joseph Huizen, a brilliant mathematician who almost died the night of the abduction. Huizen developed diabetes and almost went into a diabetic coma. He called 911 but became delirious soon afterward. The day after the attack, the field behind Huizen contained a crop circle in the shape of a glucose molecule, a coincidence that Jansson felt compelling enough to bring before the jury.

Mix in an odd psychiatrist, a few bitter experts, a group of hippies traveling to see the crop circle, and a runaway teen, and you have Star Witness. The story leaves out little in its quest to bring to life the liberal town of Santa Cruz.

Matera does a good job with this book and leaves readers with much to consider about alien abduction. She includes real theories in the body of the book, and just for kicks, she adds some sources for interested readers to check out on the web. While she claims not to stake a claim in the aliens argument, she leads readers to consider aliens very closely, probably more seriously than most readers have done in the past.

This book is a quick read. It is only slightly more than 200 pages and flies by fairly quickly. Other than getting bogged down in some of the abduction theories, there is little tedious reading in the novel, making it a good choice for a lazy summer day.

By Julia Mercer

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