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Worthy Brown’s Daughter
Phillip Margolin

Harper Collins
January 21, 2014/ ISBN 9780062195340
Historical Thriller / Western / Romance

Reviewed by Elise Cooper

Worthy Brown’s Daughter, the latest book by Phillip Margolin, is a superb tale. Different genres are magnificently combined within the story: legal thriller, historical novel, romance, and western. The novel is loosely based on true events from a 19th century Oregon case that presents many moral dilemmas.

Worthy Brown, a freed slave made a deal with his former employer, a powerful Portland lawyer, that he and his daughter would be released after a years’ worth of hard work. After the employer reneged on his promise, Brown turns to the Oregon justice system, seeking the help of a lawyer, Matthew Penny to rescue and free his fifteen-year-old daughter from their former master, Calib Balfour.

Margolin told, “I spent thirty years trying to figure out the plot and make it readable. Because it was based on a true case I tried to keep the emotional impact true to life. There was this father who was kept from his daughter simply because of his color. I changed the time period from the 1840s to the 1860s to show my readers that Oregonians voted overwhelmingly, by 70%, to not have slavery when Oregon became a state. Yet, by about that same percentage they voted to exclude blacks from living in Oregon unless they were there before the Constitution was passed.”

The book delves into many serious issues from the emotional impact of a father losing his daughter to slavery to losing the love of one’s life. A domino effect is started when Worthy sues to free his daughter, which sets in motion events that lead to Worthy’s arrest for murder. At the same time Margolin explores, through Matthew’s eyes, how someone handles losing a spouse and his struggles with the accompanying guilt that comes from finding a new love. He noted to, “I lost my wife Doreen in 2007. There is this emotional element in the book which is me trying to handle her death. When you are madly in love with someone and they die it’s the worst possible scenario. That is why I put this quote in my book, ‘death did not part people who truly loved each other. A person was not only a body. The body was a vessel that contained a person’s soul. The way a person looked did not define her. It was her personality…’”

These two storylines are intertwined with a sub-plot of a deranged psychopath, Sharon Hill. She uses her beauty and charm to entrap men like businessman, Benjamin Gilletee and a hanging Judge Jed Tyler. Both men are powerful yet have barren personal lives that lead them to become infatuated with Hill. Margolin skillfully links all the different themes and plots through the intriguing cast of characters.

Worthy Brown’s Daughter is a riveting and intriguing novel. Through the plot very serious and powerful themes are examined. Margolin brings the issues of slavery, abuse, life vs. death, and frontier justice to the forefront. Readers will not want to put this suspenseful page-turner down.

Reviewed 2014