Cover to Cover…‘Worthy Brown’s Daughter’

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You know your rights!

Or, well, at least you’re pretty sure you do. Laws can change quickly and they’re often up for interpretation. Sometimes, there’s a gray area, too, and…

So you know your rights. But how to enforce them is perhaps another matter—especially if you’d once been a slave. In the new novel “Worthy Brown’s Daughter” by Phillip Margolin, that’s one man’s struggle.

Facing a noose-waving lynch mob would terrify anyone.

Matthew Penny knew that to be a fact: as a lawyer, he’d seen many men strung up and his new client, a traveling salesman, was meant to be next. Penny was sure the man wasn’t guilty, though, but it was 1860 on the frontier, corruption was common, and the man’s beautiful, exotic accuser seemed to have the judge under her spell.

And as it turned out, the salesman was convicted and harshly punished but things could have been worse. He would’ve hung, were it not for the quiet black man who approached Penny and whispered that the trial was rigged.

Weeks later, in Penny’s Portland office, it was time to pay for that information.

Worthy Brown had once been a slave in Savannah, and had traveled west with his owner, Caleb Barbour, who was escaping debt. But slavery was illegal in Oregon and Brown was now a free man, though Barbour still held Brown’s only child, Roxanne. The law was on Brown’s side but Barbour was smart, and well-connected.

Brown needed Penny’s help.

Penny understood loss all to well. Traveling westbound two years prior, his beloved wife had drowned during a river crossing, and he sorely missed her. He knew Rachel would want him happy—but what would she say about his growing romance with the daughter of Portland’s wealthiest citizen?

That vexed him greatly, but there wasn’t time to dwell on it. Saving Brown’s daughter from her captor was more important. And since Barbour had started collecting supporters, there was no chance for error on Penny’s part…

Good and bad. That’s this book.

Author Phillip Margolin admits that he took license with history in order to write “Worthy Brown’s Daughter” and, indeed, the premise of this novel bears rather small resemblance to the true events it’s “loosely” based upon. The real-life tale of “several” unlawfully-held former slave children is surely one of fascination and outrage–but here, it’s watered down by fiction that mostly seems to get in the way, and that turns what might’ve been a stellar novel into just another courtroom drama.

(“Worthy Brown’s Daughter” by Phillip Margolin, c.2014, Harper, $26.99/$33.50 Canada, 352 pages.)

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