Phillip Margolin

"Proof Positive"

(Reviewed by Jana Perskie AUG 26, 2006)

Fans of the TV series "CSI," where the characters use cutting-edge forensic tools to examine evidence to solve murder cases, will definitely enjoy Phillip Margolin's latest thriller, Proof Positive. Here the devil is in the forensic details....quite literally.

Bernard Cashman, a respected forensic expert who works for the Oregon State Crime Laboratory, has set himself up as judge and jury in certain criminal cases where he has been the lead crime scene investigator. Cashman, with almost godlike power, has manipulated critical evidence to send innocent people suspected of heinous crimes to jail and, at times, to their state sanctioned deaths.

Jacob Cohen, a mentally ill homeless man with a prior rape conviction stands accused of brutally murdering a woman. His lawyer, Doug Weaver, is convinced his client is innocent. Confused by evidence that just doesn't add up, he consults Amanda Jaffe, a successful defense attorney who is a partner in her father Frank Jaffe's law firm.

Frank Jaffe, whose clients include major mob figures, is presently working on a seemingly unrelated case. Vicious gangster Art Prochaska is accused of murdering an informer. Clued-in by some remarks her father made while discussing his case, Amanda begins to closely examine the seemingly airtight evidence submitted in both cases. She finds unsettling discrepancies. And when a fellow crime scene investigator approaches Dr. Cashman with major concerns about past cases, people begin to die - bigtime.

This is Ms. Jaffe's third appearance in a Margolin crime thriller, and while she makes a credible heroine, she is not the strongest of characters. She serves the purpose of competent investigator, but I would not read a Margolin mystery just because it features Amanda Jaffe. There are authors whose characters are so developed and appealing that I would and do read their series novels on the strength of the lead personae they create, i.e., Andrew Vachss "Burke," and Peter Robinson's Detective Chief Inspector Banks.

However, this is a legal thriller that provides a riveting and entertaining read - even though the reader knows whodunit almost from the beginning. The author, Phillip Margolin, worked for 25 years as a criminal defense attorney, representing 30 homicide cases, 12 of which involved the death penalty. His knowledge of the subject, as well as his psychological portraits, make for a rich narrative.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 13 reviews


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"Lost Lake"

(Reviewed by Kam Aures MAY 7, 2005)

"Lutz wrenched his arm loose and pulled his hand back to punch the coach. Branton staggered away from the threatened punch and tripped over his own feet.

As the coach fell to the ground, Morelli chopped down with the side of his clipboard and shattered Lutz's wrist. Lutz went white from pain and swung his head toward Morelli, exposing his neck. Morelli drove the mechanical pencil into the bully's throat. The huge man's eyes went wide, his hands flew to his neck, and he crashed to the ground. Ben Branton stared in horror as Lutz gurgled and writhed in front of him.

The policemen had rushed forward as soon as they saw Lutz start to swing. The big man was tumbling to the ground when the first officer grabbed Morelli from behind. Ami saw the policeman fly thorough the air.

Dust rose where his shoulder hit the ground. Morelli transformed his hand into a spear and aimed his fingertips at the helpless policeman's throat. The other officer pulled his gun and fired."

These events at a Little League game in Portland, Oregon will change Ami Vergano's life forever. Ami, an attorney and a single mother, goes to watch her son's baseball game with Dan Morelli, the tenant she had just started renting to. He seemed such a kind and gentle man, but after witnessing the violence and skill Morelli displays in the fight, Ami finds herself questioning just how much she really knows about him.

These events receive national exposure and in Washington D.C. Vanessa Kohler, daughter of presidential candidate General Morris Wingate, catches them on television. When she sees Dan Morelli on the screen she immediately calls a contact at the FBI. Vanessa and her father were never close as Vanessa has been trying to expose a conspiracy regarding a secret military unit headed by her father. She has even written a book about it, but because of her previous mental history and her current employment with a tabloid newspaper she is not having any luck in getting the book published. Seeing Dan Morelli on TV may be just what she needs to push her ideas out into the mainstream. Vanessa flies to Portland and hires Ami to represent Morelli. Ami is drawn into a world that she isn't sure whether she wants to be a part of but she really doesn't have a choice.

Margolin uses the same type of format in this book as he did in Sleeping Beauty; bouncing between the past and the present. Lost Lake alternates between present day events and events involving a "secret unit" that took place in the 1970's and 1980's. Both parts are tied together neatly and the story is very intriguing and easy to follow. As I said in my SLEEPING BEAUTY review, this approach in writing gives more depth to the story. Margolin, as usual, does a great job in creating a suspenseful plot and keeping the reader engaged. I really was unsure of who was telling the truth until I reached the end of the novel. His development of the main characters is also very thorough. We learn so much about each character and all of their lives are neatly intertwined together.

Recently I have been somewhat disappointed with some of my favorite author's newest novels. The problem has been that the authors have not stick with writing the types of novels that they are masters at writing. Margolin, however, has stuck with what works and continues to write in the same tradition as his first bestseller Gone, But Not Forgotten. As a result Lost Lake is an excellent novel which I think Margolin fans and new readers alike will enjoy immensely.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 35 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Lost Lake at

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"Sleeping Beauty"

(reviewed by Kam Aures MAR 16, 2004)

The novel begins in present day Seattle where Miles Van Meter is on tour to speak about and to promote his best-selling book Sleeping Beauty. Van Meter's true-crime book tells the story of a serial killer who assaulted Miles' twin sister Casey putting her into a coma, and brutally murdering high school student Ashley Spencer's mother, father and best friend. After Miles reads aloud the first chapter of his book, the novel flashes back to six years earlier when these events actually took place.

Ashley Spencer was a star soccer player for her high school team. Her team had just won an important game by a final score of 2-1 and the goal she scored was the last pleasant thought she had before drifting off to sleep that night. Her best friend Tanya Jones was spending the night and it was a sudden jolt on Tanya's side of the bed which awakened Ashley. Still half-asleep Ashley made out the shape of a male figure walking across the room toward Tanya who was wide-awake and staring at the man. The man used a stun gun on both of them and then duct-taped their wrists, ankles and mouths. After an attempt to sexually assault Ashley, the man left her and dragged Tanya into the next room. Through the walls Ashley could hear her friend's screaming, the sounds of her being raped, and then "the sound of a blade slamming into flesh." After murdering Tanya, the man walked back through Ashley's room relishing the look of terror on Ashley's face and then went downstairs where Ashley heard the refrigerator door open.

"A sound from the doorway brought her around. Something covered with blood was dragging itself across the floor with a great effort, the thing raised its face and Ashley almost blacked out. Norman Spencer crawled toward his daughter. There was stubble on his bloodstained cheeks and his hair was in disarray. In his right fist was his Swiss Army knife, the long blade out. Ashley fought back the nausea and horror that threatened to disable her and rolled onto the floor. She turned her back to her father and presented her bound wrists. Norman had almost no strength left and he did not speak as he sawed at the tape with feeble strokes. Ashley wept as he worked with the knife. She knew that she could not save her father and that he was using all that was left of his life to save hers."

Ashley jumped out the window and escaped from the killer. But once he is finally captured and then escapes from jail she finds herself on the run again. In fact, the next few years of her life will be spent running and hiding until her lawyer uncovers some shocking secrets that will change her life and the outcome of the case drastically.

Once again Phillip Margolin has created an exciting, fast-paced thriller, which will keep you on the edge of your seat until the last page is turned. In Sleeping Beauty, as in Margolin's previous novels, nothing is ever as cut and dry as it may seem. Just when you think that you have the story figured out he throws in a plot twist that sends your mind off in a whole new direction. Sleeping Beauty contains a great number of these twists and turns and the final outcome is not readily apparent until the very end. Even if you think that you know what the ending is going to be Margolin will make you question your judgment all along the way.

What makes the novel even more intriguing is the format in which the story is told. The novel bounces back and forth between the book tour and the events of the past six years, which helps to tie all parts of the novel together while giving you bits and pieces of clues along the way. I feel that this approach in writing the novel gives more depth to the story and allows for a more suspenseful read.

I am a longtime fan of Phillip Margolin and this newest novel definitely did not disappoint! According to the message board on the author's website, he is working hard on his next book which should be released next year. Also, for those who enjoyed his book Gone, But Not Forgotten, a four-hour mini-series based on the book has been taped. Gone, But Not Forgotten is one of my all time favorite books and I can't wait to see the TV version of it even though I know that the book is always better than the movie.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 62 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Sleeping Beauty at

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"Ties that Bind"

(reviewed by Kam Aures MAR 31, 2003)

In the Preface of the novel the year is 1970. Pedro Aragon has set up a drug deal with three preppy college boys hoping "to set up a pipeline into a seller's market where the consumers would pay top dollar." The college boys arrive at the drug house and shortly after rival drug dealers raid the house and turn guns on the boys and Pedro. The "preppy boys" pull out guns and blast Pedro's rivals away. One of the boys says to Pedro, "We could kill you and steal your drugs, but that would be short-sighted. What we want is a mutually beneficial partnership that will make us a lot of money." The book then fast-forwards to the present time. Senator Travis is in the running for the next Presidential election and thoughts are that he will cinch the position. Another Senator, Chester Whipple, is running as opposition. Senator Whipple questioning Senator Travis' ethics has sent an investigator to get proof that Travis was using millions of dollars donated by biotech companies in a secret slush fund to defeat an anti-cloning bill. Because of his probing, Whipple and his family are threatened with death if he does not drop out of the election.

Read excerptSenator Travis is a customer of Jon Dupre, a pimp who runs a high-end "escort service." After a fundraiser one night, Dupre brings over a specially requested girl named Lori for the Senator. As soon as Lori sees who the client is she protests and does not want to be left with him as he beat her last time. However, Lori is left and turns up missing and then dead.

Shortly after, Senator Travis turns up dead and all clues point toward the killer being Jon Dupre. Jon Dupre is sent to jail and Wendell Hayes is assigned to represent him as his legal counsel. In a meeting in a confined room at the jail with Dupre, Hayes is stabbed to death. Now, no one wants to be the one to represent Dupre since he killed his last lawyer, but Amanda Jaffe steps up to take on the challenge.

Amanda Jaffe was introduced in Margolin's bestseller Wild Justice (2000) when she worked on the Cardoni case. The prior case has "left her traumatized, doubting her instincts, and shunning the limelight," undesirable qualities to have if you are a criminal lawyer. Taking this case will help her to recover and gain the strength that she once possessed even though it is a roller-coaster ride, which puts herself, her father and others in extreme danger.

Dupre claims his innocence of both of the murders. He tells Amanda of a secret society of prominent men that will do whatever necessary to achieve their political goals. Investigating further, Amanda finds that this case may go back farther in the past than everyone had originally thought and starts investigating events that occurred in the 1970's.

I really enjoyed Amanda Jaffe in Margolin's seventh novel Wild Justice and am pleased that Margolin decided to write a second novel with her as a key character. However, I do recommend reading Wild Justice prior to reading this novel if you have not already. There are a lot of references to the horrors that Amanda endured in the previous case that can only be fully understood by reading the other book.

Ties That Bind, Phillip Margolin's ninth novel, is written in the same suspenseful style as his previous books. There are a lot of plot twists and turns and it had me guessing until the end. Any fan of legal thrillers will not be disappointed by this book.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 24 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Ties That Bind at

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"The Burning Man"

(reviewed by Judi Clark NOV 1, 1998)

A retarded man in a small Oregon town is accused of murder and he may very well pay with his life -- the evidence makes a persuasive case against him.  Meanwhile he is defended by a lawyer who has just been thrown out of his father's firm for a selfish screw up. 

The concept behind this book is interesting.  But there is something about The Burning Man that I did not like as much as his previous books and I suspect that it has do with the central character, Peter Hale.  Part of Margolin's goal with this book was to try to work on character.  Unfortunately, if lawyer Hale were real, he'd be shallow, so there isn't much improvement on paper. 

Nevertheless if you've read all the others, try this one.  Otherwise I highly recommend reading one of the previous books first.  I normally like to read Margolin's books for the same reason that I like to watch The Practice on TV; they both show the job of the criminal defense attorney and the less than flattering side of American justice.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 23 reviews
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"Gone, But Not Forgotten"

(reviewed by Judi Clark NOV 1, 1998)

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This is one of those books that scares you so much that you have got to turn the next page. I believe this is his bestselling book and the most shocking. Housewives are being kidnapped and whoever is doing it is leaving behind a black rose and a note saying "Gone, but not forgotten."  If you like this type of book at all, I promise- you will not be disappointed.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 61 reviews
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"The Last Innocent Man"

(reviewed by Judi Clark NOV 1, 1998)

I like this book because it shows the true job of the Defense Attorney.  Imagine defending criminals day in and day out to the point that you are so jaded that when the real thing comes along, that is, an innocent man, you almost miss it.  And then the job gets really tough because this time you MUST keep him from going to jail. But then again, what if that perfect case starts to make you wonder if it is what is? Is David Nash, the defense attorney known as the "Ice Man" who is a master at manipulating a jury, being manipulated himself?

  • Amazon readers rating: from 20 reviews

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Bibliography: (with links to

*Features Amanda Jaffe


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About the Author:

Phillip MargolinPhillip Margolin was a practicing criminal defense attorney for 25 years in Portland, Oregon.  He has tried many high-profile murder cases and has argued in the Supreme Court.  He was the first attorney in Oregon to use the battered woman's syndrome as a defense in a homicide case. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014