Phillip Margolin, master of the legal thriller, takes a literary trip to the nineteenth century, to the days on the eve of the Civil War in his latest work, "Worthy Brown's Daughter." (HarperCollins, 345 pages)
The plot is loosely based on "Holmes v. Ford," a case involving Robin and Polly Holmes. They were slaves owned by a Colonel Nathaniel Ford of Georgia who moved the Holmes and their children to the Oregon Territory.
Ford had promised to free the entire family, but changed his mind and kept three of the children as indentured servants. While the young state of Oregon's constitution outlawed slavery, it also barred free negroes from living in Oregon, unless they were brought into the state as slaves.
The state's constitution prohibited free negroes from entering into contracts or litigation.
Against this backdrop, Margolin creates the story of Worthy Brown and his daughter, Roxanne. They were owned by Attorney Caleb Barbour who left
the state of Georgia, ahead of the debt collectors, with the promise that he would free father and daughter upon settling in Oregon.
But once in Oregon, Barbour reneged on his promise, and decided to keep the child as his servant. The girl's father sues to get his child back, but things quickly take a tragic turn.
Barbour assaults the girl and dies in a home fire soon after. Worthy Brown emerges as the prime suspect and the lawyer defending him, Matthew Penny, carries a brutal secret which may save his client from the hangman's noose.
Phillip Margolin's "Worthy Brown's Daughter" reads something like "Deadwood" meets "Twelve Years a Slave." The finale in the courtroom is as brilliant and exciting as any great legal drama, bearing witness to the fact that trials in the nineteenth century could be as entertaining as any theatrical production and as raucous as a rodeo or circus.
The author penned a touching dedication to his late wife, Doreen, who served as his muse in this beautifully written story rooted in America's brutal history of slavery and racism.