Margolin actually began writing this novel over twenty years ago while still a practicing attorney in the 1980s. While performing legal research, he stumbled across an old historical case from the 1800s, Holmes v. Ford, in which a man brought a family of slaves with him when he moved to Pacific Northwest promising them he would free them after he established his farm in Oregon, a state that while prohibiting slavery was also quite hostile towards blacks at the time. But Mr. Holmes didn't entirely keep his promise and only freed a portion of his family of slaves, keeping some of the children, one of whom died under his dubious care. If the family wanted their remaining children back, they needed a lawyer and a damned good one. And he needed to be white.
Historical tidbits like these create great novels and that is just what Margolin did with Worthy Brown's Daughter. He fictionalizes this riveting case, but includes so many real characters - including the only United States Supreme Court Justice to be arrested for murder while sitting on the bench - that it reads like a taut true-crime book. Perhaps most disturbing is the sharp reminder of our own country's path towards civil rights, most of which we associate with the Southern states and rarely give a thought to its evolution in the West.
For those accustomed to Margolin's thrillers, there are plenty of good guys and bad guys to go around. And our brilliant attorney who comes to the aid of the dispossessed ex-slaves is, of course, utterly brilliant. Do the good guys win? Well, as with anything to do with slavery and civil rights, the answer is somewhat murky. You can win a battle, but that doesn't mean you've won the war. Nevertheless, Margolin's novel is inspiring and a rollicking good read.
Title: Worthy Brown's Daughter
Author: Phillip Margolin
Date: January 21, 2014