Jean Davison | Berkley Books | 1978 | 218 pages
Chris Maguire has received psychic impressions since she was a child, frequently hearing the voices of strangers speaking in her head. Unable to turn-off the snatches of conversations or disturbing images that flood into her mind, she has long struggled with the anxiety caused by these unwanted telepathic intrusions. Postponing her impending marriage and honeymoon with her fiancé Brad, Chris volunteers to be a test subject for a psychic research study, hoping to discover a way to exert control over her “gift” and lead a normal life.
Professor Martin Lambert, Director of the Wellington Institute, engages Chris in a series of tests in his ESP dream lab. Waking her after periods of deep REM sleep, lab assistants question Chris on the details of her dreams to ascertain whether she has received the prearranged psychic signals that have been telepathically sent to her while sleeping. During the course of a routine test, Chris instead experiences the horrific vision of a murder—the brutal stabbing death of a young woman.
To her horror, the next day’s newspaper details a local murder with striking similarities to the one Chris witnessed during her ESP test session. Initially unwilling to contact the police, she ultimately has no choice when a transcript of her dream session—containing all the accurate specifics of the murder—is leaked to the press. The Chief of Police convinces Chris to ride along with Lieutenant Stephen Maravich, the detective assigned to the case, hoping that she receives another psychic impression that she will recognize as being from the killer.
Dreaming Witness exists in the sweet spot for the acceptance of psychic phenomenon, a time when pop culture (surrounding television shows such as Leonard Nimoy’s In Search of…) seemed to make ESP and telepathy almost a “scientific” certainty. Although Lieutenant Maravich has some initial reservations about her motivations, few other characters hesitate in accepting her extrasensory skills as genuine. However, other than occasionally nudging the investigation, Chris’ telepathic readings are hardly vital to the proceedings. In fact, by thoroughly checking the suspects’ alibis, the police should have found the critical piece of evidence without her extrasensory help.
Ultimately Dreaming Witness reads as a by-the-numbers entry in the I-saw-a-murder-in-a-psychic-vision genre, with its tepid central mystery failing to deliver much suspense. Although her cottage is broken into as a warning, Chris never seems to be in much personal jeopardy, with little sense of a tightening pressure to solve the case. The killer is eventually revealed after a series of interrogations, but his identity could easily be interchangeable with that of any other suspect without much impact. The final twist comes as expected, leaving Chris free to pursue Lieutenant Maravich as her new romantic interest—another happy ending for a psychic-meets-detective love story.