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 blackfive.net, “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 blackfive.net, “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
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.
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.