Proof by C.E. Tobisman – Caroline Auden is a lawyer unlike any I have read of in fiction or encountered in real life. I know many lawyers afflicted with Auden’s obsessive personality but none who have her hacker level computer skills. For most lawyers computers are research and word processing tools.
Auden is a solo practitioner in Los Angeles. She left a large firm in dark circumstances often referred to in Proof but never clearly stated. I expect the plot of the first book in the series, Doubt, explains what happened to Auden.
As the book opens Auden is dealing with the death of her beloved Grandma Kate at The Pastures Assisted Living nursing home. It falls to Auden to deal with her grandmother’s affairs as her mother Joanne has a manic personality and her Uncle Hitch, after being forced from the L.A. Police Department, has descended into an alcoholic oblivion that has driven him to the streets of L.A.
At the nursing home Auden is shocked when the administrator produces a recent holograph, handwritten, will in which her grandmother has left all her possessions to Oasis, a charitable organization devoted to re-training the lost of society and returning them to self-sufficiency. A caregiver from Oasis advises her that her grandmother wanted to help the good works of Oasis. Still Auden cannot understand why her grandmother would, near the end of her life, would abruptly change her will.
More or less resigned to the will Auden’s attention turns to her grandfather’s watch, a beautiful work of art, but is missing from her grandmother’s room. When Auden finds out a caregiver from Oasis picked it up from the watch repair shop her frustration with Oasis turns to anger.
A bit of investigation determines Oasis is not a registered charity which shields its books from public scrutiny. Auden is convinced Oasis, through its caregivers, is influencing elderly nursing home residents to make wills in favor of Oasis.
Auden files a lawsuit against Oasis asserting “claims for undue influence, fraud and elder abuse” but gets nowhere in court.
She tries to get the District Attorney’s office to investigate Oasis. There is little interest in pursuing Oasis. Founded by a beloved children’s entertainer, Duncan Reed, and carried on by his son, Simon Reed, connections with establishment Los Angeles abound.
Officially blocked Auden turns to her hacking skills. She secures some suspicious information but far from enough to cause a criminal investigation. Auden rightly has ambivalence about her actions. She is breaching the law in her pursuit of justice. The codes of ethics for lawyers forbid breaking the law.
The consequences of her actions lead to violence that drives Auden onto the streets where she connects with her homeless uncle. Trying not to introduce spoilers into this review I will avoid particulars.
Initially I found Auden going to the streets challenging credibility but what happens among the homeless was inventive and proved to be the best part of the book.
Auden comes to appreciate the society of those cast aside by conventional society or overwhelmed by their private demons.
Among the most vivid characters is the “Mayor” who holds a unique form of leadership among the homeless. A child of wealth he finds the homeless suit him better than his family. He dispenses advice and aids the exchange of favors in a culture without money.
When Auden rather condescendingly describes a man as a schizophrenic who would benefit from medication the Mayor replies:
Schizophrenices are drowning in the same ocean that mystics are swimming in,” Floyd said. “Some are enlightened or touched. Some are just stark raving mad. Some are broken. Some were never whole. Some are sojourning here. Some are just passing through.” He paused. “Which are you?”
I found myself swiftly drawn along by Auden’s journey with the homeless as she pursues her investigation. Auden shows an ingenuity and tenacity consistent with her obsessive nature. Tobisman has an apt and evocative phrase for Auden – she is “a truffle pig for evidence”.
The conclusion is a masterly example of a lawyer inexorably presenting proof.
While there is more violence than usual in legal fiction, real blood does not flow in the courtrooms and law offices of the world, I greatly enjoyed Proof.
It is a challenge to write a great fictional lawyer. Grisham has done it best in over 20 books. Tobisman has created a wonderful lawyer in Auden.
I want to read the next in the series. I hope Tobisman tones down the thriller aspects a little, emphasizes the impressive legal skills of Auden and includes more scenes like the gift of a carved wooden dove in repose or sleep bearing the inscription:
“The scars are the places where the light comes in.”