It's difficult to decide where to begin with Automaton. This is an exemplary novel by a master of the craft. Set in Australia, it is so deep, so well written, so intelligently thought out and flows so smoothly that I felt like a participant and personal observer within the events, rather than a reader who was sitting comfortably in my office as the story unfolded. Woods' experience as a Court reporter makes her tale as authentic, intriguing and interesting as any you'll ever read. It's not a quick, shallow read - it's a real novel.
A young man named Russell, who claims to have no recollection of the crime for which he is to be tried, stands accused of murder. He apparently has amnesia, the result of a brutal beating suffered shortly after the victim's death. Or does he? The government's case is overwhelmingly strong, replete with solid circumstantial, forensic, and eye-witness evidence. Russell is looking at some very serious prison time.
Enter Elisabeth Sharman, a beautiful, intelligent, rather pushy, aggressive, somewhat tactless barrister, the newcomer to the office by the way, who is assigned to defend the accused at trial. She encounters her senior instructing solicitor, the dashingly handsome, egotistical Rob Murphy, and some other office staff members who are less than receptive to her presence. And you know the sparks are going to fly, in several different directions.
The interactions among the various characters in the law office (it is a legal thriller, after all) are very true to life. I say that from having worked for nearly two years as an investigator with the Colorado Public Defender's Office. From the professionally driven, all-business barrister Elisabeth Sharman, to the investigators who dutifully carry out her legal legwork, you'll feel as though you know each of them personally. One situation in particular, wherein the task master Elisabeth gathers her troops in the office and begins to assign their work, actually had me wanting to get out of the room. I caught myself almost squirming in discomfort. Call it PTSD, perhaps. Alana Woods created the scene and dialogue exactly as I recalled it from some of my own investigative experiences with tyrannical lawyers.
The love story (yes, there's also a love story here) within the plot is handled skillfully and tenderly. And the actual murder trial, which is central to the entire book, will keep you on the edge of your seat. Alana Woods writes the novel with the expertise and skill of one who has actually been there and seen it. Conviction or acquittal? Prison or freedom? You'll have to read the book to find out. Fictional stories, like real life, don't always end happily, do they? I'll never tell you.
Regretfully, I can only give this one five stars. I assure you I'm waiting for Alana Woods' next novel.