Phillip Margolin started his career in law before turning his attention to legal thrillers. Since 1996, all of his novels have been bestsellers, including Heartstone, The Last Innocent Man, Gone But Not Forgotten, Executive Privilege, and many more.
Q How did you get the idea for the story?
Phillip: I always have been a voracious reader. I devoured Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie, and John Dickson Carr. I became a lawyer because of Perry Mason, my inspiration. Ellery Queen is the reason I write mysteries with surprise endings. American Mystery Classics, published by Otto Penzler, is reissuing the mystery classics of the 1930s. After I started re-reading these “Golden Age of Mystery” classics I decided to write a story in the same mold, trying to put every cliché into this book. There is a haunted house with a werewolf curse, locked rooms, all the different suspects trapped on a mountain, a butler who might be a killer, and an escaped lunatic, like the game of Clue. I had the most fun writing it.
Q Is the story that of an accused who got a raw deal?
Phillip: We have set up our justice system in the late 1700s because of being victims of really mean people, the British mistreatment of colonists. There was a philosophical decision that the person arrested was arrested by mistake, a presumption of innocence. The burden shifts to the state. The focus is never on the victim until the sentencing phrase. Jose, the accused in the book, was found guilty, put-on death row, and we very quickly learn he did not do it.
Q How would you describe Jose?
Phillip: Extremely intelligent, hardworking, his family are immigrants. It is a tragedy what happened to him. He was robbed of most of the productive years of his life. He is angry, resentful, and feels the system let him down.
Q You delve into a little bit of the law. What can you tell us about that?
Phillip: When the prosecutor turned defense attorney, he found out Jose was innocent. He could not help him get out because of attorney-client privilege. It is an absolute essential part of our justice system. The lawyer must have the client’s confidence that they can be honest. The person can only be represented if the lawyer knows what really happened. I wanted to set up this horrible conundrum. I wanted the reader to think what they would have done, to be put in this position. I also spoke of Habeas Corpus and Statute of limitations. I do this to promote the story.
Q How would you describe Frank, the former prosecutor?
Phillip: His life went down the tubes once he found out Jose is innocent. He loved the law but dropped out of it because of his depression. What he has going for him is to free others from prison who had misjudgment. He is remorseful, lonely, and believed in curses.
Q What’s your next book about?
Phillip: It is another Robin Lockwood, titled All Dead. An entire family is murdered. It is a who done it where people are trying to figure out who was the intended victim. It will probably come out in November 2023.
Murder at Black Oaks by Phillip Margolin is a legal thriller that has the main character, Robin Lockwood, having to deal with a legendary curse, ancient grudges, escaped convicts, improbable masquerades, and a possible serial killer. Besides the haunted house there is also the former prosecutor, Frank Melville, who is also haunted by someone he prosecuted who turned out to be innocent.
Melville asks Robin Lockwood, a brilliant defense attorney, to right this long outstanding wrong and free an innocent man on death row, Jose Alvarez. Successful in their efforts, Melville invites Lockwood, her investigator, and Jose, up to Black Oaks for a celebration. Unfortunately, the celebration turns deadly after Melville is found murdered, with a knife connected to the original curse. Like the game of Clue, Robin and her investigator Ken must determine who is the suspect and how did the murder happen.
This is a fun, complex plot with many twists and turns. A bonus is how the attorney-client privilege plays into the plot. Readers of his books will learn a little about the law.