Known for his critically acclaimed contemporary thrillers, New York Times bestselling author Phillip Margolin explores intriguing new territory in Worthy Brown’s Daughter, a compelling historical drama, set in nineteenth-century Oregon, that combines a heartbreaking story of slavery and murder with classic Margolin plot twists.
One of a handful of lawyers in the new state of Oregon, recently widowed Matthew Penny agrees to help Worthy Brown, a newly freed slave, rescue his fifteen year old daughter, Roxanne, from their former master, a powerful Portland lawyer. Worthy’s lawsuit sets in motion events that lead to Worthy’s arrest for murder and create an agonizing moral dilemma that could send either Worthy or Matthew to the hangman.
At the same time, hanging judge Jed Tyler, a powerful politician with a barren personal life, becomes infatuated with a beautiful gold-digger who is scheming to murder Benjamin Gillette, Oregon’s wealthiest businessman. When Gillette appears to die from natural causes, Sharon Hill produces a forged contract of marriage and Tyler must decide if he will sacrifice his reputation to defend that of the woman who inspired his irrational obsession.
At Worthy’s trial, Matthew saves Worthy by producing a stunning courtroom surprise and his attempt to stop the deadly fortune hunter ends in a violent climax.
I was intrigued by the fact that it took Phillip Margolin thirty years to write this book. Of course, he wasn’t working on it consistently during all that time. But it’s a story that stuck with him, one that he couldn’t let go and needed to tell. As an author, I understand how that feels and I respect Margolin’s tenacity and insistence that this story get written.
This book is set in Oregon, shortly before the start of the civil war. The west was truly wild then. They had little in the way of law and order. Black people had no rights. Women had few rights. Being a black woman, as Worthy Brown’s daughter Roxanne is in this story, meant you were at the mercy of men who, for the most part, had no respect for your race or your gender.
Worthy Brown’s Daughter is loosely based on a case Margolin read about when he was a practicing defense attorney back in the 1980s. What sticks with me most about this book is the knowledge that things like this happened. I can’t imagine…
With this story, Phillip Margolin takes a difficult time from our country’s history and paints a vivid portrait. I could see this story playing out in the ‘wild west’ 150 years ago. The details are profoundly disturbing; not because Margolin overdoes it, but because he gets it just right. We’re forced to take a hard look at prejudice of all sorts, as well as the (mis)treatment of women.
For readers who are longtime fans of Margolin’s courtroom dramas, there is much of that here as well. This story takes place at the very beginning of courts and judges in the west, and we see the way the system worked and didn’t work back then.
My only problem with this book is that many of the characters felt a little too good or bad. Few people are one way or the other in life. I wanted more depth and variation. Though I have to say that Matthew Penny’s character was well done, if not a little predictable. I could feel his anguish as he struggled with the hardships of his life.
Overall, this is an interesting read and an important reminder of what we’ve left behind.
I received an advanced review copy of this novel, which will be published in January of 2014. You can pre-order it on Amazon.
Thanks for reading.
Tags: Book Review Blogs, Courtroom Dramas, Historical Fiction Novels, Legal Dramas, New Historical Fiction Novels, Novels About Slavery, Novels Set Around Civil War, Phillip Margolin, reading recommendations, Recommended Reads, Review Blogs, Worth Brown's Daughter