Margolin, Phillip 1944-

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Margolin, Phillip 1944-
(Phillip Michael Margolin)


Born April 20, 1944, in New York, NY; son of Joseph Harold and Eleonore M. Margolin; married Doreen Stamm, December 22, 1968; children: Daniel Scott, Amy Elaine. Education: American University, B.A., 1965; New York University, J.D., 1970. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Jewish.


Home—Portland, OR. Agent—c/o Author Mail, HarperCollins Publishing, 10 E. 53rd St., New York, NY.


Writer, novelist, educator, and attorney. U.S. Peace Corps, Washington, DC, volunteer in Liberia, 1965-67; teacher at public schools in New York, NY, 1968-70; Oregon Court of Appeals, Salem, law clerk to the chief judge, 1970-71; deputy district attorney and special agent for Multnomah County, Portland, Oregon, 1971-72; private practice of law in Portland, 1972-86; Nash & Margolin, Portland, partner, 1974-80; Margolin & Margolin, Portland, partner, 1986-96. Admitted to Oregon State Bar, 1972, and to Bars of the U.S. District Court of Oregon, 1973, U.S. Court of Appeals (ninth circuit), 1974, and U.S. Supreme Court, 1977; lecturer on law topics. Coach of an elementary school chess team in Portland, 1981-95; Chess for Success (elementary and middle schools program), president and chairman of the board, 1996—.


National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Mystery Writers of America, Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Oregon State Bar Association.


Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination from Mystery Writers of America, 1978, for Heartstone.



Heartstone, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1978.

The Last Innocent Man, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1981.

Gone, but Not Forgotten, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1993.

After Dark, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1995.

The Burning Man, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.

The Undertaker's Widow, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.

Wild Justice, HarperCollins New York, NY), 2000.

The Associate, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

Ties That Bind, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.

Sleeping Beauty, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.

Lost Lake, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.

Proof Positive, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.


Contributor to anthologies, including The Best American Mystery Stories, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1999. Contributor of short stories to periodicals and legal articles to professional journals.

ADAPTATIONS: The Last Innocent Man was adapted for film by Home Box Office (HBO); Gone, but Not Forgotten was filmed by Hallmark Entertainment.


Author and novelist Phillip Margolin is an immensely popular writer of legal thrillers. Margolin's novels—all of which have been on New York Times bestseller lists—are tightly plotted and unpredictable, peopled by serial killers and young, inexperienced attorneys whose lives hang in the balance as they prepare their cases. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote of Margolin: "The man knows how to tell a legal thriller that will remind readers of the best of Erle Stanley Gardner." This authorial expertise stems from Margolin's twenty-five years as a criminal defense lawyer in Portland, Oregon. He knows how to craft thrillers around the legal system's strengths and shortcomings.

Margolin served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa and as a teacher in New York City before obtaining his law degree and moving to Oregon to pursue a legal career. His first novel, Heartstone, concerns the murder of a high school couple at the local make-out spot in 1960. The key witness in the case, a young woman, is finally able to testify after retrieving memories of the incident under hypnosis many years later, but doubt exists as to whether she remembers things correctly. The final chapter reveals the surprising details of the crime.

In 1981, Margolin published The Last Innocent Man. The novel's protagonist is an ace criminal lawyer who wins acquittals even when he knows his clients are guilty. In the case that forms this story, however, the protagonist believes the client is innocent. Newgate Callendar, reviewing the book in the New York Times Book Review, assessed the background as "authentic enough" but called the writing "bad soap opera." Of Margolin's next effort, Gone, but Not Forgotten, Marilyn Stasio in the New York Times Book Review complained of the "revolting plot," which concerns a serial killer who mutilates rich housewives because he feels they take advantage of their husbands' wealth and positions. A Publishers Weekly correspondent, however, lauded the book as a "gripping tale" and "a top-notch whodunit."

Gone, but Not Forgotten leaped onto the bestseller lists as a paperback, selling more than a million copies. This success gave Margolin cachet in the publishing industry. Not only did publishers rush his earlier novels back into print, but they also accorded his subsequent fiction large budgets for publicity. Margolin has risen to the occasion by penning more legal thrillers that sell particularly well as summertime reading. In Booklist, Mary Francis Wilkens stated that Margolin "has proven that he can write a legal thriller rivaling Scott Turow but with the cheeky storytelling savvy of Danielle Steel."

Many of Margolin's novels feature young attorneys, male and female, who find themselves immersed in their first big cases. In After Dark, Tracy Cavanaugh goes to work for an eccentric private attorney who only handles capital cases, and who is preparing an important defense for a client. Both the attorney and Tracy believe their client is innocent, but Tracy's research into the case reveals deadly new information that places doubt on several of the characters. "No legal-thriller fan, once hooked, will wiggle free of the story line of this … exciting yarn," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Noting that Margolin "specializes in characters who make your skin crawl," Susan Toepfer in People concluded that readers would be "hard-pressed to anticipate the action" that the novel has to offer.

An impetuous, ego-driven Peter Hale is the central character in The Burning Man. Exiled to a rural public defender's office after botching one of his father's most important cases, Peter is threatened not only by his own vanity but also by real criminals. In Booklist, Emily Melton cited The Burning Man for its "terrific court room scenes, great lawyerly dialogue, and a plot that won't quit."

One of Margolin's most successful plot devices is the hunt for a serial killer (or killers). This device is put to use in Wild Justice, a grisly tale of doctors who market body parts and ambitious attorneys who seek acquittals even at the peril of returning murderers to the streets. In the novel, novice lawyer Amanda Jaffe helps her famous father defend a surgeon whose rural cabin is found to contain severed heads and the remains of multiple torture victims. When the doctor is freed on a technicality, it appears that he has become yet another murder victim—until evidence of further torture-slayings is uncovered in his ex-wife's country cabin. Booklist correspondent David Pitt described Wild Justice as "a very clever thriller indeed, and a delight for Margolin's many fans."

The villains of The Associate are also killers, but of a more discreet kind. A widely used medication is thought to create horrendous birth defects. A lawsuit against the drug's manufacturer has begun, and the prosecuting attorney in the case has already started counting the tremendous financial windfall a victory will ensure for him. When evidence surfaces that suggests the drug is not as virulent as portrayed, and when the prosecutor starts to realize that the case may not go as planned, a scheme is hatched to create a bogus research laboratory that churns out fabricated results detrimental to the drug company's cause. When a young Portland attorney uncovers this deception, he finds his professional reputation and, ultimately, his life, in danger.

In Ties That Bind, Portland attorney Amanda Jaffe returns for another legal adventure. She is recovering from hideous torture that she received from a sadistic former client in Wild Justice. She experiences great personal turmoil when she is asked to defend Jon Dupre, a reprehensible character and pimp who is accused of killing one of his working girls, a U.S. senator, and the lawyer who previously represented him. Dupre claims he is innocent, and perhaps he is, but the evidence against him is strong. Adding to her misery, Amanda is kidnapped, her captors demanding that she let Dupre be convicted. As she conducts her investigation, complex layers of intrigue and deception peel apart, exposing prominent government agencies and a secret cabal of local power brokers who use murder and force to control their wide-ranging empire. Reviewer Joanna M. Burkhardt, writing in Library Journal, observed that Margolin's novel displays "all the marks of a successful thriller."

Ashley Spencer, the protagonist of Sleeping Beauty, endures the trauma of murder and assault when an unknown assailant attacks her friend, Tanya Jones, and her family while the two girls are having a sleepover at Ashley's house. The intruder kills Ashley's father and rapes Tanya, then inexplicably stops to have a snack from the refrigerator. While the attacker is occupied with his meal, Ashley escapes, but she is traumatized by the sights and sounds of her horrible experience. When Ashley gets a transfer to a prominent prep school, her life begins to improve. Meanwhile, her mother Terri, an aspiring writer, has found the opportunity to take a writing class with best-selling author Joshua Maxfield. To Ashley and Terri's dismay, however, they discover that Maxfield's new novel appears to be based on their earlier trauma. When Terri is murdered and another victim, Casey Van Meter, is left seriously injured, Ashley sees Maxfield at the murder scene, bloody knife in hand. Could the quiet writer be the same man who visited terror on her years earlier? If not, who is the murderer who cannot let the Spencer family alone, and why has he returned to brutalize them again? Margolin "has imagined a particularly lurid and sensational crime," observed a Publishers Weekly contributor. "Margolin knows how to put together a high-concept thriller, piling plot twist upon plot twist and keeping the narrative pounding ever forward," commented Booklist reviewer Mary Frances Wilkens.

Lost Lake "is smooth on the surface with tumultuous secrets lurking beneath," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The novel features Washington, DC, resident Vanessa Kohler, a tabloid newspaper reporter and daughter of an influential retired general and potential presidential candidate. When she witnessed a murder years ago in Lost Lake, CA, her father placed her in a mental institution. Now, she writes accusatory stories about her father and governmental conspiracies that no one seems willing to believe. The book also features lawyer single mother Ami Vegano, who has taken in handyman Dan Morelli as a tenant and potential role model for her ten-year-old son, Ryan—and possibly more, in the future. When Dan flies into a murderous rage at a little league game, Vanessa realizes that he is the same man who committed the murders she witnessed years ago at Lost Lake. Vanessa and Ami's lives intersect as they both work to help Dan Morelli and as Vanessa makes one last attempt to expose her father's hypocrisy and dirty deeds. "The artful arrangement of the story's episodes keeps the suspense high," commented the Publishers Weekly contributor. In a review of Lost Lake, Library Journal critic Joseph L. Carlson called Margolin "a master of the courtroom drama."



Booklist, May 1, 1995, Emily Melton, review of After Dark, p. 1531; August, 1996, Emily Melton, review of The Burning Man, p. 1855; March 15, 1998, Mary Francis Wilkens, review of The Undertaker's Widow, p. 1180; July, 2000, David Pitt, review of Wild Justice, p. 1974; January 1, 2002, Ted Hipple, review of The Associate, p. 875; February 15, 2004, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of Sleeping Beauty, p. 1003; October 15, 2005, Karen Harris, review of Lost Lake, p. 87.

Entertainment Weekly, July 21, 1995, Gene Lyons, review of After Dark, p. 59.

Kliatt, September, 2003, Nola Theiss, review of Ties That Bind, p. 59.

Library Journal, September 15, 2001, Barbara Conaty, review of The Associate, p. 113; September 15, 2003, Joanna M. Burkhardt, review of Ties That Bind, p. 107; February 15, 2005, Joanna M. Burkhardt, review of Sleeping Beauty, p. 169; January 1, 2006, Joseph L. Carlson, review of Lost Lake, p. 171.

New York Times Book Review, March 29, 1981, Newgate Callendar, review of The Last Innocent Man, p. 39; November 7, 1993, Marilyn Stasio, review of Gone, but Not Forgotten, p. 24.

People, August 7, 1995, Susan Toepfer, review of After Dark, p. 31.

Publishers Weekly, August 2, 1993, review of Gone, but Not Forgotten, p. 60; October 24, 1994, Gayle Feldman, "Margolin's Triple Thrills from BBD," p. 29; May 22, 1995, review of After Dark, p. 46; July 22, 1996, review of The Burning Man, p. 227; March 30, 1998, review of The Undertaker's Widow, p. 68; July 24, 2000, review of Wild Justice, p. 69; May 5, 2003, review of Ties That Bind, p. 21; March 8, 2004, review of Sleeping Beauty, p. 49; February 21, 2005, review of Lost Lake, p. 158.


New York University School of Law Alumni Web site, (May 1, 2006), biography of Phillip Margolin.

Phillip Margolin Home Page, (May 1, 2006).

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Margolin, Phillip 1944-

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