"Silent Justice" opens in a city council meeting in a small town. Mrs. Deyers, a woman whose recently moved to this close-knit Protestant community, rails against the city for allowing her daughter Jenifer's killer to go unpunished. Jenifer had been harassed by Jonathan, the teenage son of Molly, one of the town's most prominent citizens. In a court trial there were no witnesses who saw Jonathan strangle Jenifer, rape her, and leave her body in the back of her own car. But the body was found wrapped in Jonathan's own sleeping bag (which he now claims was lost months ago). Apparently the people in the town, or the author, haven't heard of DNA evidence likely to be obtained from a murder-rape incident.
The jury of Jonathan's peers (also his friends and relatives) returned a not guilty verdict, but as the story progresses it turns out that many individuals witnessed events which would have incriminated Jonathan, but kept quiet about what they saw. On the day of the murder, for instance, Jonathan's aunt saw Jenifer get in Jonathan's truck and start yelling at him, telling him to stop following her. Jonathan started to drive away, Jenifer tried to get out of the car, but he restrained her and wouldn't let her go.
Jenifer's mother is certain that Jonathan is the killer, and certain that the townspeople know it, but are defending him. Jenifer's family are newcomers to the town, and they are Wiccans. The townspeople basically dislike them, and side with Jonathan's family, who are oldtimers in the town.
Basically the story reuses a very classical plot in which the residents of a small community, prejudiced against an outsider who is different than them, collude with each other and stand in the way of justice. This is combined with a classical plot of vengeance against a collusive community, in a situation where justice wasn't served and a killer has gone free. Jensen's story echoes such classics as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Scarlet Letter, Carrie, Freddy Kreuger, etc., etc.
Jenifer's parents are described as Wiccans in the story, but they're not authentically Wiccans in the contemporary sense. They are witches, and they have the power to actually curse the whole town. It's not clear whether the author simply doesn't know anything about actual Wicca, or whether she is simply blurring the distinctions between Wiccans and classical literary witches for the purposes of the story. Actual Wiccan readers may be interested in this story because science fiction and fantasy with contemporary "Wiccan" characters is so rare. Wiccan readers will be able to relate to the prejudice showed to Jenifer's family in this story, but this could be applied to any persecuted minority religious group -- whether Jews, Latter-day Saints, Muslims, or even Catholics in some heavily Baptist towns. Other than the persecution aspect, Wiccans may not recognize very much in this story's Wiccan characters. Still, the portrayal of the Wiccan characters is mostly positive, while the portrayal of virtually everybody else is essentially negative.
The "Silent" part of the story's title refers to the curse levied on the town by the grieving parents before they move away. Using their surprisingly powerful hocus pocus they sprinkle a few feathers around during halftime at the local high school football game and put in effect a real magical curse. Jenifer's mother told the city council that the curse can only be prevented if somebody comes forth as a witness to her daughter's murder. Once the curse goes into effect, only the killer himself will be able to reverse it, by coming forth. Of course, nobody comes forth as a witness, and in the middle of the night everybody in town loses their voice. As hard as they try to scream, no sound comes out. It's a predictably horrifying scene. Fortunately for the town people, the killer gets what's coming to him and the townspeople regain their voices.
The strongest element of the story is Jensen's use of vivid imagery. The statue at Jenifer's gravesite is beautifully described. (In fact, the actual black and white illustration of the statue is one of the best parts of story.) The feathers are a nice touch, although all the symbolic white feathers floating around kept reminded me of "Forrest Gump." Jensen should also be commended for telling her story without excessive or gratuitous language, sex, violence, etc. This is a generally clean story, although there were two harsh scatalogical references.
This was Maurene Jensen's first published story. It is a competent story in which Jensen displays technical skill as a writer. I would be interested to read a future story in which Jensen applies her talents to an imaginative plot.