Review

Offer of Proof

by Robert Heilbrun



Arch Gold is the narrator and public defender in Robert Heilbrun's
debut novel, OFFER OF PROOF. He is a straight talking, hardworking
lawyer who understands the system and has enough experience to know
that a trial is a game. He knows all too well that the high-minded
notions of Truth, Justice, and Innocent Until Proven Guilty often
get lost in the process: "Fewer than three percent of felonies in
New York City got to trial. The system is geared toward guilty
pleas, which is understandable since most defendants are in fact
guilty. Only if a defendant decided to push the case to the limit
did he really find out its merits, long after he'd turned down
whatever [plea] offer the People [made] … less in the
interest of justice than in the interest of doing less work and
moving things along as quickly as possible."

With this as his theme, Heilbrun tells a riveting and cautionary
tale about the arrest and prosecution of young Damon Tucker, an
African American man who is charged with the murder of a white
woman. Circumstances and deep prejudices that cement stereotypes of
young black men are not absent in the "justice system" and Damon is
smart enough to know that he could be convicted of murder. When he
pleads with Arch to check out the victim the PD says, "Honestly,
Damon, I think it's more likely to be a mugging gone bad by someone
other than you, than some kind of hit." Damon explodes in rage, his
life is on the line and he has seen too many of his peers
railroaded. Arch tells his terrified client that speculation cannot
be presented as a defense and their problem is that they simply
don't have enough proof.

Damon is a hothead. He has a temper and makes no attempt to hide
his rage against the world. He is also a devoted son, a college
student and works part-time in a video store. He is a complex
individual, a city kid, a product of the street violence endemic to
New York's inner city and yet a charmer in his own way … a
character you love one minute and hate the next. He is lucky that
Arch picked up his case, because Arch sees how screwy a
circumstantial case can get when the details are retold in a way
that meets someone else's agenda --- certainly not the
defendant's.

But Arch is a hero. He is a man who does believe in the law. He has
integrity and self respect and he believes in Damon. Once he sees
his client as an individual, he is willing to investigate the
entire history of the victim if it will uncover what really
happened.

Heilbrun is a talented writer with an accessible prose style and
the uncanny ability to create fully fleshed out characters. He
channels them through his tightly controlled plot with credible and
logical twists and turns. The courtroom scenes and the narrative
asides mirror what readers are exposed to if they watch Court TV or
any of the Law and Order programs on television. Every
society needs heroes --- the old-fashioned kind who are real enough
for the reader to identify with but not see as a melodramatic
cutout.

Heilbrun has been an attorney since 1985 --- a staff attorney with
the Legal Aid Society in New York City. He brings to his writing a
passion of the law and has entered the crowded docket of the
courtroom thriller genre with a strong leading man and a terrific
story. He is certainly a match for most of the generation of
lawyer/writers who have come before him.

Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 22, 2011

Offer of Proof
by Robert Heilbrun

  • Publication Date: October 1, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0060538120
  • ISBN-13: 9780060538125