The pseudonymous Amanda Cross’s son, a New York public defender, tosses his hat into the ring with a legal thriller about—what else?—a New York public defender.
Generally speaking, admits Arch Gold, “I really don’t care whether my clients are guilty or innocent”; he doesn’t pick them any more than they pick him. But if he did pick, he’d certainly avoid Damon Tucker, the hulking black college kid accused of mugging and killing Charlotte King, whose career with high-profile p.i. firm Yates Associates was cut short when she went art-shopping around the corner from the Chelsea video store where Damon worked. The cops have Damon’s prints on a videotape in Charlotte’s purse and her prints on three $10 bills in his pocket; the defense has Damon’s furious insistence that Charlotte’s deathbed ID didn’t ID him. Except for a deft, unexpected development that suddenly puts the death penalty on the table, the case unfolds pretty much as you’d expect in court and out, with Arch convinced, but unable to prove, that Charlotte was killed by the untouchable boss she was touching in all the right places. In fact, Arch’s fixation on scary James L. Yates would make him an obvious candidate for Charlotte’s psychiatrist if Dr. Stern hadn’t checked out soon after his client courtesy of another suspicious mugging. What’s best here is Arch himself, proud of his courtroom technique but candid about the limitations that cause the defense, which initially looks promising, to blow up in his face. And although Arch’s cowboy techniques outside the courtroom—breaking and entering, carrying a concealed firearm, the whole nine yards—are both less legal and less believable, he at least has the grace not to pretend he does stuff like this all the time and it’s perfectly all right.
An appealingly fallible hero who deserves the sequel an epilogue promises.