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The new ebook edition of Where Lawyers Fear To Tread is available in Amazon's Kindle Store, the iTunes store, and Barnes & Noble's Nook Store. 



Where Lawyers Fear to Tread is the debut crime novel featuring lawyer Willa Jansson, described by the New York Times as, "One of the most articulate and surely the wittiest of women sleuths at large in the genre."


All Willa has to do is finish her last year of law school, and she'll get the job of her idealistic dreams. The lawyer who routinely keeps her social activist parents out of jail—or at least joins them on their courthouse soapbox—asks only that she graduate with honors and on law review. So far, so good. Willa is near the top of her class at Malhousie Law, in San Francisco's Tenderloin district, and she's the law review's senior articles editor.

Everything changes the morning the new issue comes out. Furious professors, stressed out students, and even local politicians troop through the basement office to confront Susan Green, the editor-in-chief. But Willa has no clue, while she's dying of boredom in her federal income tax class, that Susan Green is slumped over a manuscript, dying of a blow to the head. And when another editor insists it's his right to take over Green's job, he's killed in exactly the same way. Willa's not exactly thrilled to be third in line, considering someone may be trying to climb the masthead one dead body at a time.


Find out why the Houston Chronicle wrote that, "Willa's cases and escapades always top the fun-to-read list," and Fresh Air's John Leonard said, "I'm in love with Willa!"




Where Lawyers Fear To Tread


By Lia Matera




Copyright 1987 Lia Matera


Electronic Edition 2011

eISBN 978-1-937697-00-6



This ebook may not be re-sold, reproduced, copied or distributed for commercial or non-commercial use.


First Bantam Books Edition 1987

First Ballantine Books Edition 1991


This book differs in some ways from the print version, published by Bantam in 1987 and reprinted by Ballantine in 1991. Please see the Author's Note for details.




The law school and law firms depicted in this book are imaginary. So are the lawyers, professors, and law students. Any resemblance they bear to real people and institutions is coincidental.



This novel is dedicated, with thanks, to the editors of the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, Volume 8, for letting me boss them around.





Where Lawyers Fear To Tread





Chapter One



Law schools don't have football teams, they have law reviews. Law reviews may look like large paperbacks, but they are arenas. Legal scholars maul each other in polite footnotes, students scrimmage and connive for editorial positions, and the intellectual bloodlust of law professors is appeased, rah rah.

Law reviews are edited by law students. After three years of competing for grades, jobs, even vending machine food (it's nothing but Fig Newtons after four o'clock), law students will do anything—if it means someone else doesn't get to do it.

"Top ten percent and law review," that's the magic phrase. If you don't want to work in Puyallup, Washington, or Lawton, Oklahoma, if you want to work in a big city law firm, if you want a decent salary, if you want a job in a government agency or a hip organization like the American Civil Liberties Union, you'd better be in the top ten percent of your class, and you'd better be on law review. And if you're not at Harvard, Yale, or Stanford Law, it's best to be editor-in-chief.

I was editor-in-chief of a law review for a while, through no fault of my own. I replaced an infinitely more qualified woman named Susan Green.

Here's everything I know about Susan Green, former editor-in-chief of the Malhousie Law Review.

Susan Green was born to Dr. Sidney and Mrs. Greta Green the year I, Willa Jansson, started grade school. While I played with incense sticks and chose my mantra at one of the first alternative schools in San Francisco, Susan Green, super-baby, learned her alphabet from an overqualified nanny. While I was hating my first job, washing dishes at a vegetarian restaurant, Susan Green was giving piano recitals and taking ballet lessons. While I organized high school antiwar rallies and refused to salute the flag, Susan Green began using her photographic memory on volumes of patriotic verse. When my parents joined the Peace Corps, Dr. and Mrs. Green began their retirement cruise, leaving Susan in an elegant boarding school in Washington, D.C. So, when I hitchhiked there to join thousands of others camped around the White House, Susan Green and I were in the same city for the first time in our lives.

That didn't happen again for four years, when we both ended up at Stanford University, me after much impecunious gypsying around the country (which did not affect my college entrance exam score), and she after graduating with honors from the toughest of prep schools. Not only did we end up at the same university at the same time, but our families actually met at freshman orientation. My father looked faded and ill after two years of diarrhea, but my mother was still rosy and pear-shaped under twenty pounds of African jewelry. Susan's parents looked made-for-TV and smelled faintly of leather from a new Jaguar. We all ended up at the same little outdoor picnic table for a cafeteria lunch. Two students at the next table were discussing their rapes, and Mrs. Green went white and whispered to my mother that she wished they wouldn't. She looked down at where her cleavage would be if, like the students, she were showing any.

"I've been raped myself," my mother said in her squeaky, carrying voice. "Twice. And it really is therapeutic to talk about it."

There was a shocked silence. Mrs. Green clutched her fur-trimmed collar, sidling closer to her pinch-lipped husband.

My mother, characteristically unaware of having given offense, thus noticed the band of wildlife around Mrs. Green's neck. I knew what was coming. I'd already gotten the 'greatness of a nation' lecture when I ordered a cheeseburger.

"You know, Gandhi said that the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are—"

"—cooked," I cut in. Mrs. Green and my mother seemed to agree this was not funny.

Then Mother started to say something else, and Mrs. Green stood abruptly. She and hers walked away. I love my mother, but we've all been there.

Susan Green and I had one class together that year, and I wrote her off as a living résumé, dull but impeccable. She wore a pearl necklace to class, she used soap that made her cheeks shiny. Her sorority's motto was "Learn from the successful and inspire the unfortunate." (Maybe part of initiation was saying that without laughing. And inspiration is easy on the pocketbook.)

Susan had total recall, a photographic memory. She spoke in edited paragraphs: topic sentence, supporting facts, brief restatement. I'm a babbler who can't memorize, so I hated her for it.

I had a few classes with her, never did as well on the exams, never impressed my professors, and got into a lot of trouble over some articles I wrote for the school paper. (I called Leland Stanford a domestic pirate, which I learned was not beyond dispute after all.)

Then the fates decreed that Susan Green and I begin law school together, make law review together, and end up on the editorial board together.

But here's one thing we didn't do together: the day I argued with Larry Tchielowicz about the war in Vietnam, somebody smashed Susan's head in as she bent over a manuscript.



Chapter Two



"Look what the Communists did over there. Too bad radicals didn't keep quiet and let Nixon win the war." There were half a dozen other editors in the law review office, sleepily filling their cups with metallic wastewater from the coffee um. They regarded Tchielowicz with weary incredulity. Exams were less than four weeks away. Only I could be goaded into fighting the old battles.

"You'd have protested too if the government planned to kill your ass on foreign soil." Tchielowicz was younger than me. He'd been in diapers during those years of division, death, and defoliation.

"No Republicans in foxholes?" Tchielowicz's thin lips—the only thin part of the muscle-bound, big-headed man—twitched back a smile. "The army's paying my way through law school, I'll have you know. Paid my way through college, too. I've already done basic training, and I owe them six more years, after the bar exam." He rubbed his smallish, bent nose. "So you see, I've already consented to let the government do with my ass what it will."

I treated Tchielowicz to my candid opinion of this arrangement.

Susan Green rapped at the glass of the inner office to try to shut me up. She'd talked the law school into erecting a plywood and acrylic enclosure around the half dozen desks in the basement office, separating them from the sagging Naugahyde couches and encrusted coffee accoutrements. The partitions created an illusion of privacy, but they stopped several feet short of the ceiling to allow for a maze of overhead pipes, and they barely muffled the sound of conversation on the other side.

Since it took sixteen of us to do the proofreading, disparaging, and kvetching known as the editorial process, and since most of us did it in the outer office, Susan's inner sanctum was less than silent at the best of times. But I honored her request by concluding more quietly, and more kindly, that Tchielowicz was a prostitute for the cryptofascist war machine.

Before Tchielowicz could respond, Jake Whittsen strolled in and ruffled my hair—I don't know why men treat small blond women like puppies. "Are you coming to hear Jane Day?" Even Jake's voice was gorgeous, about an octave lower than most men's, and so quiet it sounded like pillowtalk no matter what he said.

Jane Day was one of those damned Republican feminists who run every committee in every town. It was spooky how often I ran across her name. She was currently on the rubber chicken circuit, trying to win her party's nomination for state attorney general. The law school, which happened to be her alma mater, was hosting a reception for her that afternoon. The editorial board of the law review had been invited. The rest of the student body was not deemed worthy to break bread with our distinguished professors.

I was inclined to go with Jake. It was a chance to sit beside him and become intoxicated by his cologne (probably selected by his stunning and sophisticated wife, alas).

But Tchielowicz remarked that he guessed it was more important for Jane Fonda to build up her pecs than to worry about the Vietnamese… once they were getting slaughtered by socialists and not capitalists. I mean really, I couldn't leave the fray. I turned down Jake's invitation.

A few students drifted in, earnestly discussing the relative merits of squash and racquetball. They drank the dregs of the coffee, then Reeboked off to a commercial paper class. Professor Haas, a comparative law professor with a lilting Swedish accent and a shy, charming smile, came in to get the latest issue of the review. It was hot off the presses and stacked on the floor near Susan's desk. Professor Miles, who'd been teaching trusts and wills long before they'd mummified her, stalked in clutching a copy. Through the plywood partition, I heard her shriek to Susan that we'd failed to list all her degrees in the editor's note preceding her article on blind trusts.

That was the last thing I ever heard anyone say to Susan Green.

I left to go to my federal income tax class. I didn't particularly want to go, but I was beginning to suspect Larry Tchielowicz thought I was cute when I was mad.

And while my tax professor lasciviously discussed his favorite tax shelters, someone stood behind Susan Green, raised up a weapon, and brought it down twice on the back of her head.



Chapter Three



John Hancock Henderson, a several-times-removed descendant of the guy with the big loopy signature, hovered over my desk. The look on his face bespoke a great tightness of the nether parts.

"The masthead shows a clear pattern of ascension," he spat, as though we'd been arguing about it. "It goes: editor-in-chief on top, then next row, executive editor—me—on the left and senior articles editor—you—on the right."

"Can I be on the left? I'm more at home there."

"What? No. I'm saying we're one row down from editor-in-chief, which speaks to our level of importance. But the fact that executive editor is positioned first in the row tells us it's next in—"

"Does all that fit on your résumé?"

Henderson was looking excessively crabby, even for him. He was of middle height, getting plumper every year, with skin that looked like pizza at finals time. His face and features were so big Mary West called him Mr. Potato Head. (It's good to have someone around who's less charitable than my own secret thoughts.)

"I know what you're thinking," he said. "This is somehow in bad taste. But this law review has been in existence eighty-eight years, and we have an obligation to carry on. There's no excuse for getting behind"—he said the word with sincere horror—"so we've got to determine who's in charge."

"Nobody needs to be in charge. I'll do final edits for style and substance, you keep doing the final technical edits, and we'll set the deadlines between us. The only executive decision left for Susan was choosing the articles for the summer issue. The other three issues are either at the printer's or almost ready to go."

What I didn't say was that there would be a mass revolt of editors if John Henderson started cracking the whip. Susan had spent half her time mollifying John's underlings to keep them from mutiny. He was a good technical editor—he could spot a spacing error in a footnote from a hundred yards—but that was about all you could say for him as a human being.

Anyway, the conversation seemed ghoulish.

"Go be monomaniacal elsewhere, would you, Henderson? I have to finish reading this case before my trusts class."

Mary West came in, looking like a refugee from a True Sex article on "Why Leather Makes Me Hot."

Mary had waist-length black hair and a figure that made her pale, lantern-jawed face beside the point. She had a habit of lacing her fingers behind her head to show off a bustline that needed no fanfare. She also liked to spend money she didn't have—hence the tight leather pants and high-heeled Italian boots—and to bed first-year students who didn't know any better.

I'll say this for Mary, she didn't mince her words. "Masturbating over the masthead again, John?"

She'd once told Henderson he looked like an oiled pig when he blushed. He proved her point, huffing out of the inner office. He shouted over his shoulder, "I'll take this up with our faculty advisor, thank you."

Mary sauntered over to Susan's desk, which had been emptied of effects by the police and scrubbed clean by me. (John had delegated the task to the janitor in a chillingly seigneurial way, so I'd felt obliged to do it myself.)

"Christ, who'd want to bash Cotton Panties?" Clean, white, and practical—that had been Mary's assessment of Susan.

I have very long blond bangs. If I tuck my chin down I can examine the gray streak that is developing on the right side. I did that.

"You don't suppose John killed Susan so he could be the Big Footnote?" She smiled her I've-seen-it-all smile. "What's this shit about him going to the faculty? They're not going to make him e-in-c are they?"

I shook my head. John and I had had many dealings with the faculty. I'd recognized their pomposity and worked around it. John had met them with equal pomposity, which they seemed to find disrespectful. If our faculty had to choose a replacement for Susan, it wouldn't be John.

"Damn him," I said. "If he gets me made e-in-c, I'll kill him."





To read the rest, please visit the Amazon Kindle Store, the iTunes store, or Barnes & Noble's Nook Store.




Books by Lia Matera



Willa Jansson Novels


Where Lawyers Fear To Tread

A Radical Departure

Hidden Agenda

Prior Convictions

Last Chants

Star Witness

Havana Twist


Laura Di Palma Novels


The Smart Money

The Good Fight

A Hard Bargain

Face Value

Designer Crimes


Short Story Anthologies


Counsel for the Defense and Other Stories

Irreconcilable Differences





Praise For Lia Matera's Willa Jansson Series


"Willa Jansson is one of the most articulate and surely the wittiest of women sleuths at large in the genre." The New York Times Book Review

"Readers will be shaken by Matera's rapier-sharp dissection of personal relationships and radical ideologies. Matera again demonstrates that she is one of today's best mystery writers." Publishers Weekly

"Intelligent and entertaining... Absorbing... With sharp descriptions and crisp dialogue... admirably delivers the complex situations and memorable characters of a 'real novel' while still managing to let the detective story have its day in court." The Wall Street Journal

"[A] distinctive voice, sharp wit, discussion of social and moral issues, insight into personal ideals and compromises and characters that grab your emotions." Washington Post

"Willa Jansson is an unusually deep and complex character for crime fiction--tough-minded, sexual, vulnerable, lonely, morally alive… This is gutsy, grown-up crime-writing from one of the best practitioners around." Newsday

"Matera's wit, grace with language, irreverence toward the legal system, and wry dissection of being a child of the Sixties make this a standout." Kirkus Reviews

"Willa's cases and escapades always top the fun-to-read list... The beauty of Matera's writing is that the story, fun as it is, doesn't shortcut a shrewd social commentary." Houston Chronicle

"Matera seems to really understand the moral and social issues that were on the deck in the late '60s and early '70s, and she's not interested in blowing them off.  She's smart enough to realize that many of these issues are still with us… Good stuff." Austin Chronicle

"Blessed with pungent prose, an affecting, funny, realistic heroine/detective and pressing moral and emotional issues." San Francisco Chronicle

"Matera's language is witty and sharp; her images by turn humorous and poignant.  The moral dilemmas with which her characters wrestle are real and wrenching." The Recorder

"Her voice is clear and light, and she knows when to jettison the gags and get on with the story.  As long as Willa is still the star of the show, the series will stand out in the often homogenous mystery landscape." San Francisco Chronicle

"Matera has produced a first-rate mystery, exhibiting her usual hallmarks of excellent plotting, solid characterizations, and brisk pacing." Booklist

"The real pleasure is Willa, who alternates between humor and annoyance at her predicament—and whose love-hate relationship with men strikes a chord with many female fans." Entertainment Weekly

"Almost everything a good mystery needs…a complex plot, social commentary, loads of atmosphere and a cast of unusual characters… The reader wants to hang out with Jansson and see more of her clear-eyed view of the world." San Jose Mercury News

"Few writers possess Lia Matera's wry humor, especially when it comes to putting down lawyers." San Jose Mercury News

"I'm in love with Willa!" John Leonard, National Public Radio's "Fresh Air"