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Review: Worthy Brown’s Daughter by Phillip Margolin

Worthy Browns Daughter
Worthy Browns Daughter
Worthy Browns Daughter


Highlights: The length that a father will go to rescue his only child from the clutches of an evil man is expertly handled.
Synopsis: In 1860 Oregon, former slave Worthy Brown fights the legal system to get his daughter back. He hires Matthew Penny, a man with his own troubles, as his lawyer in a case that will result in life and death before it is all over.



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The author does a wonderful job of showing how former slaves and free blacks had few rights in Oregon during the 1860s.


Some of the characters need more development.

Posted May 19, 2014 by

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Philip Margolin’s latest novel, Worthy Brown’s Daughter, is an example of what makes reading historical fiction both entertaining and educational. Margolin competently explores the complexities of 1860s Portland, Oregon in an engaging way.

Matthew Penny has had a run of bad luck. Ever since his wife Rachel died while the two were crossing the Oregon Trail, Matthew has not been able to get his life back together. As a young lawyer in Portland in 1860, he is barely making ends meet, and he certainly isn’t making a name for himself with the kinds of cases he represents. But everything changes when Worthy Brown, a former slave, asks Matthew to help him get his daughter back.

Worthy and his daughter Roxanne belonged to Caleb Barbour, an unscrupulous lawyer also practicing in Portland. When Caleb fled Georgia to escape his debts, he took his slaves with him. In Oregon, though, slavery was illegal, so Worthy and Roxanne should have been free once they entered the new state. Instead, Caleb made an agreement with Worthy to work for his and Roxanne’s freedom, but Caleb backs out of his promise. Although he sets Worthy free, Caleb refuses to give up Roxanne. Knowing that a black man’s word will never be taken over a white man’s, Worthy hires Matthew Penny to defend him.

Matthew is glad to take on Worthy’s case because he doesn’t like Caleb Barbour. The two have already had words and nearly came to physical blows over a different case. Matthew thinks he can win for Worthy, but when Caleb Barbour is found dead on the front porch of his burned-out home, and Roxanne is found raped and running through the woods naked, Worthy becomes the prime suspect in Caleb’s death. Only, he didn’t do it, and now Matthew faces his most difficult decision to date: tell the truth and risk ruining his own life, one that he’s just beginning to put back together, or allow the lie to stand, which will mean certain death for Worthy Brown.

Worthy Brown’s case is the focal point of the novel, but several subplots exist that impact the book’s outcome. While Caleb Barbour might appear to be the great villain of the work, he is outclassed in the evil department by Sharon Hill, a former prostitute whose primary goal in life is to climb Portland’s social ladder. Using her beauty and sex appeal, she attracts the attention of an honorable judge, Jed Taylor, and the town’s wealthiest citizen, Benjamin Gillette. When things do not go according to her plans, she never hesitates to poison those who stand in her way. Hill is a one-dimensional character, and the thought process behind her scheming is not explored as fully as it could be.

Another character of importance in the novel is Heather Gillette, Benjamin’s daughter. After Matthew sustains an injury that causes him to have temporary memory loss, Heather is the one who nurses him back to health. Their eventual union seems a certainty, but it is what Matthew recalls when his memory returns that threatens any future happiness between them. Heather Gillette is good and sweet, perhaps a little too much so, but her gentleness is a nice foil to Hill’s crass and opportunist behavior.

What Margolin does well in Worthy Brown’s Daughter is lay bare how blacks were treated in Oregon in the 1800s. Margolin researched a real case similar to Worthy’s fictional one, and discovered that blacks had no rights in Oregon. As Margolin writes in his author’s note, “During this time period, Oregon was hostile to blacks. When Oregon became a state in 1859, the state constitution barred free Negroes from living in Oregon unless they had been residing there when the constitution was passed.” By using this detail as the driving force of his novel, Margolin brings awareness to the injustices that blacks faced in all parts of the United States during the 1800s.

Phillip Margolin does a great job of ending his chapters with hooks that make the novel hard to put down. Thankfully, the author sets a nice pace, which allows the reader to move through the book at a quick rate. A solid effort by a proven author, Worthy Brown’s Daughter is an enjoyable read.

Worthy Brown’s Daughter LP (Paperback)

By (author): Phillip Margolin

Known for his critically acclaimed contemporary thrillers, New York Times bestselling author Phillip Margolin explores intriguing new territory in Worthy Brown’s Daughter, a compelling historical drama, set in nineteenth-century Oregon, that combines a heartbreaking story of slavery and murder with classic Margolin plot twists.

One of a handful of lawyers in the new state of Oregon, recently widowed Matthew Penny agrees to help Worthy Brown, a newly freed slave, rescue his fifteen year old daughter, Roxanne, from their former master, a powerful Portland lawyer. Worthy’s lawsuit sets in motion events that lead to Worthy’s arrest for murder and create an agonizing moral dilemma that could send either Worthy or Matthew to the hangman.

At the same time, hanging judge Jed Tyler, a powerful politician with a barren personal life, becomes infatuated with a beautiful gold-digger who is scheming to murder Benjamin Gillette, Oregon’s wealthiest businessman. When Gillette appears to die from natural causes, Sharon Hill produces a forged contract of marriage and Tyler must decide if he will sacrifice his reputation to defend that of the woman who inspired his irrational obsession.

At Worthy’s trial, Matthew saves Worthy by producing a stunning courtroom surprise and his attempt to stop the deadly fortune hunter ends in a violent climax.

List Price: $26.99 USD
New From: $13.54 USD In Stock
Used from: $12.31 USD In Stock

Mollie Smith Waters

Mollie Smith Waters teaches American literature, theater, and speech at a small community college in rural Alabama. Her hobbies include reading, writing, traveling, and walking.


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