Review of Murder at Black Oaks by Phillip Margolin – coming soon

An unusual mix of legal thriller and Golden Age atmosphere…

I hadn’t read any books by Phillip Margolin before receiving a review copy of Murder at Black Oaks, and I was surprised to find that he is the author of several mystery series, including this one, which features Robin Lockwood as the protagonist. But my lack of familiarity didn’t hamper my enjoyment of Margolin’s somewhat unusual combination of a Golden Age mystery with a modern legal thriller.

First off, when thinking of a legal thriller, one usually isn’t expecting an isolated house in the country, with a hospital for the criminally insane nearby, a good dose of nasty weather, and no cell phone service. And one definitely isn’t expecting rumors of werewolves and curses. But that’s what Margolin dishes up, all wrapped around the main story of a young man, Jose Alvarez, who was wrongfully convicted of the murder of his college girlfriend. And in what turns out to be almost two separate stories, the lead prosecutor in that trial, Frank Melville, finds out later that Jose is innocent, but can’t act on his knowledge, since this would violate the requirements of attorney-client privilege. So, years later, he hires Robin to figure out how to exonerate Jose, which she capably – and legally – does. But, then Frank himself is murdered…

It can sometimes be difficult to come into a series several books in. And I occasionally did feel as if I were missing a few pieces of the story, especially around the rather recent death of Robin’s fiancé. But those bits weren’t central to the current tale, and overall, Margolin does a good job of filling in the necessary background without sounding as if he’s lecturing his readers. And I also occasionally felt that the mixing of the creepy atmosphere with the more modern legal case was a bit forced. But overall, Murder at Black Oaks pulled me in and kept me reading as I tried to figure out whodunnit. Which I wasn’t able to do until nearly at the end – and that’s what a mystery should do.

Please keep in mind that I try to fight star-flation a little bit, and so for me, a four-star review is a solid recommendation to read this book. And finally, my thanks to Minotaur Books and NetGalley for the review copy!

Buy (coming Nov 8): Amazon US | Amazon Canada | Kobo US | Kobo Canada

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