Worthy Brown’s Daughter


Worthy Brown’s Daughter is a departure for Margolin, who has a successful career writing contemporary legal thrillers (Sleight of Hand, 2013). The plot has the same ingredients – a lawyer, a murder, a surprise ending – but it’s set in 1860 Oregon, when the law is only as good as those who defend it.

Matthew Penny, a young Portland lawyer still mourning the death of his wife, hesitates when Worthy Brown, a freed slave, comes to him for help. The slave owner who promised to free Worthy’s 15-year-old daughter upon their arrival in Oregon now refuses to let her go. Worthy needs a white lawyer to take the matter to court. Enslavement is illegal in Oregon, but slavery and racism are not. Confronted by a dishonest prosecutor and an unprincipled judge, Worthy does not stand a chance.

Then Matthew takes up Worthy’s cause. The plot quickens. Matthew falls in love with the daughter of a millionaire, a man whose dissolute mistress is involved with the trial judge and an out-and-out criminal. Worthy’s suit is upstaged by a forgery and two murders, one blamed on him, which is actually Matthew’s fault. Or is it? Matthew cannot prove his innocence without sacrificing Worthy, or vice versa.

Margolin’s prose reads like a legal brief – concise, unsubtle, fascinating – which suits the transformative years before the Civil War. Worthy Brown’s Daughter will be a nice change for Margolin fans and a pleasure for those new to his work. Highly recommended.

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