Phillip Margolin

Minotaur Pub

March 6th, 2018


THE THIRD VICTIM by Phillip Margolin is the first in a new series. Margolin is back with his expertise of legal suspense crime novels. What makes his books interesting is the ability to intertwine facts about the justice system within a riveting plot.

The book begins with a horrific scene of a girl stumbling out of the woods and collapsing on the highway. She has been badly burned, beaten, and tortured. The investigation would later show that this woman was the ‘third victim’ of a sadistic killer. Luckily she was able to escape before he finished the job. Persons of interest pile up:  Alex Mason, a prominent defense attorney who owns the cabin where the torture takes place; Arnold Prater, a rogue police officer, and a drug dealing pimp, Jackson Wright. Readers enter the courtroom with the defense attorneys, Regina Barrister and Robin Lockwood, as they try to figure out who is the real torturer.

As with all of his novels, Margolin explores societal issues, with this book being no different.  Alzheimer’s is dealt with in a very understanding manner.  Regina, a high-powered defense attorney, in the midst of a very serious case of murder and torture is starting to forget important information and is not able to hide it from the rest of the team that includes her newly hired associate Robin Lockwood.  Since Regina is known for her quick wit, sharp mind, and immaculate research, Robin thought this would be her dream job, having a great mentor.  Yet, she now must decide what to do, weighing her desire to continue working with Regina against her moral compass.  Does she approach her or some of the trusted friends, and if so how to avoid confrontation since Regina is obviously in denial?

Margolin never disappoints readers with his legal thrillers.  He chooses an issue relevant to today and encases it in a story involving some crime.  This book is really two plots in one, a murder mystery and an examination of the impact of Alzheimer’s.

Elise Cooper: You had a two-year absence?

Phillip Margolin:  I switched publishers from Harper to St. Martins who gave me a three-book deal.  The reason for the lapse between books is that in 2016 my editor’s mother got very sick and she passed away.  Because we were going back and forth with the edits the book was not completed until April 2017.  But it was too late to get it into the catalog so they set it for 2018.  I actually finished the second book of the series before this book came out.

EC:  You delve into the issue of Alzheimer’s?

PM:  It is the inspiration for this book.  I read this article in the Oregon State Bar Journal that examines what should be done when a senior partner in a big law firm, a rainmaker, starts showing signs of dementia.  This made me think about a young lawyer who starts working with her idol on a death penalty case and realizes something is wrong.

EC:  Did you do any research for it?

PM: Dr. Jeffrey Kaye was kind enough to read the book to make sure I got it right. He is the Layton professor of neurology and biomedical engineering and the director of the Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, as well as director of the Oregon Center for Aging and Technology (ORCATECH).

EC:  Did you know anyone who has it?

PM: Both my grandmother, mother-in-law, and my aunt had Alzheimer’s.  I think it is worse for people who are around them.  I remember when I went back to New York and called my aunt to get together for lunch.  After lunch, we were sitting in the park and she did not know where was her apartment.  Five minutes later she asked the question again.  My father and brother flew out and we took her back to Oregon.

EC:  It seems that most of your books also have a woman who is abused?

PM:  It is an important issue for me.  I pioneered the battered woman defense back in Oregon in 1979.  No one understood the dynamics of wife beating and why they stayed with their abuser.  That year I represented a woman who murdered her husband with a hammer after he passed out drunk.  During the course of my investigation I found out she was beaten by him for fourteen years and he also pushed her down a flight of stairs.  She got probation.  After that I lectured and wrote articles on how to use it as a defense.

EC:  You also explore how the justice system works?

PM:  As a lawyer I did thirty homicide cases, twelve death penalty, and went before the US Supreme Court.  I hope to show readers how real trials and cases are very different than what they see on TV.  Justice is served when the legal process functions successfully.  It was set up by the colonists because they thought the government was bad and could do evil things.  This is why they put the burden on the government to prove its accusations beyond a reasonable doubt.  For the prosecution, it is put up or shut up.

EC:  Why a death penalty case?

PM:  I want to show my distaste for the death penalty.  I tried thirty murder cases and with two of them I proved that the person convicted was factually innocent.  Two out of thirty is a pretty high percentage for one lawyer.  I think we have to be very careful because the death penalty is a non-correctable sentence.

EC:  How would you describe Robin?

PM:  I really like her.  In my previous books my two most important characters are Dana Cutler, a female Rambo, and Amanda Jaffe, a realistic tough female attorney.  Robin is a blending of these two.

EC:  You have Robin kicking someone’s a- – in this book?

PM:  I wanted to make sure that scene is realistic.  In reality, most women who fight a bigger guy will lose.  I figured out how to do this by giving Robin a background in martial arts and learning wrestling skills while on her high school team.

EC:  You always have twists and turns in your plots?

PM:  Yes, but I hope the readers think that the ending is fair.  I won’t write a word until I get my conclusion. I would never have the murderer just dropped from the sky. Otherwise, people feel they are being taken advantage of. As a reader myself, authors who do this really upset me. I feel like they wasted my time since there is no way I could have figured it out.  My style is to drop subtle hints throughout the plot and hope everything comes together.

EC:  Can you give a heads up about your next book?

PM:  Regina is only mentioned in the next one but does come back in the third one.  Everyone else from the law firm returns in the next book with Robin and the other law partner taking control.  It is loosely based on the Stanford swimmer who raped a girl and got a very light sentence.  In my story, the antagonist is an All-American linebacker who raped a girl at a fraternity party and claims it was consensual sex.