Robert Heilbrun Offer of Proof Reviewed by Terry D'Auray

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Offer of Proof

Robert Heilbrun

William Morrow/HarperCollins

US Hardcover First

ISBN: 0-06-053812-0

Publication Date: September, 2003

304 Pages; $24.95

Date Reviewed: April 20, 2004

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2004




Yogi Berra's old baseball adage "It ain't over 'til it's over" could apply equally well to any number of contemporary legal thrillers. The verdict rendered by the jury is not the end, but merely the beginning, of the twists, turns and truths rendered by the author of a cleverly plotted legal suspense story. Robert Heilbrun follows his many predecessors, particularly Scott Turow, in constructing a legal narrative that concerns itself with the unfolding of events inside the courtroom, and the quite different, but true, story that is revealed well outside the workings of the law.

'Offer of Proof', Heilbrun's debut novel, opens with the robbery and murder of a beautiful, successful businesswoman on the streets on New York. From the victim's dying moments, NYPD immediately captures a young, black male in the nearby streets and charges him with the crime. Arch Gold, ten-year veteran of the NY Public Defender's Office, draws the black man's case to defend, unaware that it will become the first capital punishment trial in New York in over a decade. With the ante thus upped, Gold begins a convoluted path through the criminal justice system and through the upper echelons of New York business in quest of justice, or in quest of the truth. As he learns, they're not the same.

In Arch Gold, Heilbrun has created a memorable protagonist, a character who is clearly Heilbrun's own alter ego. Arch is the son of an electronic storeowner and honest bookie, educated at Yale and Harvard Law, on track for the big Wall Street law firm/money machines. He gave that life a try, even marrying a fellow female fast tracker, but found, ultimately, that that life just didn't fit. Arch gave it all up - both the big-money legal career and the wife - for an underpaid but satisfying career in the NY Public Defender's Office, trying cases that mostly can't be won with defendants that mostly deserve to loose. Arch is an idealistic realist, accepting the day-to-day BS with wit and resignation, but not drowning in despair or futility. As the first-person narrator, Arch tells this story in prose that is linear, low-key and frequently witty.

Heilbrun is well equipped to write realistically and accurately of the inner workings of the big city criminal justice system. His decades of experience as a public defender guarantee his descriptions of events are credible and authentic and provide realistic gravity to his narrative. He expertly layers layman's explanations of various legal terms and machinations within the story, which buoy the reader's understanding and involvement without slowing the action. Heilbrun's prose is lean, devoid of superfluity or excessive sentiment, a style that works well for this taut tale of legality and justice both inside and outside the courtroom.