The Undertaker's Widow

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At the center of The Undertaker's Widow is the beleaguered figure of Richard Quinn - a judge so ethical that he is willing to risk his own life to see that justice prevails in his courtroom. But as Quinn discovers when he presides over the trial of tough-talking state senator Ellen Crease, there is not always a clear path to justice. A former police officer, Crease is a flamboyant public figure who stands accused of conspiring to murder her husband, a wealthy tycoon who got his start in the funeral parlor ...
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At the center of The Undertaker's Widow is the beleaguered figure of Richard Quinn - a judge so ethical that he is willing to risk his own life to see that justice prevails in his courtroom. But as Quinn discovers when he presides over the trial of tough-talking state senator Ellen Crease, there is not always a clear path to justice. A former police officer, Crease is a flamboyant public figure who stands accused of conspiring to murder her husband, a wealthy tycoon who got his start in the funeral parlor business. Things, however, are not as they seem, and Quinn soon begins to suspect that Crease may well have been set up. As he zeros in on the deadly secret at the heart of this trial, Judge Richard Quinn finds that his efforts to do the right thing lead him ever deeper into an insidious maze of murder and deceit.

The Unabridged edition includes 6 cassettes. Narrated by Jason Culp. .

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
It takes a really crafty storyteller to put people on the edge of their seats and keep them there... Margolin does just that.
Library Journal
Best known for his stunning thriller Gone but Not Forgotten (LJ 8/1/93), Margolin disappoints in this new novel. Wealthy Portland, OR, businessman Lamar Hoyt Sr. is shot to death in his bed. His wife, Ellen Crease, fires upon and kills the shooter. When the forensic scientist studies the photographs of the crime scene, he sees a discrepancy in the blood spatters, which points to Crease's lying about what happened. Her arraignment and bail hearing is before Richard Quinn, an honest, by-the-book judge who is being blackmailed into ruling against Crease. Despite Margolin's storytelling ability, the novel features unadorned prose and is thin on characterization and shallow in plot. The one bright spot here is Mary Garrett, an attorney with a great deal of aplomb and courtroom savvy who should be considered for her own novel soon. For most fiction collections because of demand for the author's books. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/98.]Jo Ann Vicarel, Cleveland Heights-Univ. Heights P.L., OH
Kirkus Reviews
A tale of an ill-starred Oregon judge proves itself to be more than the sum of its parts. And thereþs a lesson in that. Create a likable hero, put him on the rack, keep him there with might and main, and such flaws as wooden dialogue and gratuitous twists of plot still wonþt sink your story. Like his legendary father, Richard Quinn is a state supreme court justice, and itþs almost irrelevant that heþs also sweet-natured, since what defines him is his being a man of principle and conscience. Early on, a fellow judge convicted of bribery appears before him for sentencing, and Quinn hits him hard, giving him jail time when no one, including the prosecution, would have frowned at probation. In fact, a strong argumentþand one Quinn sees merit inþcould be made that probation would have been the fitter punishment for the crime. Except that itþs a judge, Quinn says, and a judge must adhere to a higher standard, or whatþs a courtroom for? Soon enough, however, the judge at a moral crossroads is Quinn himself. For reasons he only half understands, malign forces have suddenly focused on him. Willy-nilly, heþs being framed for murder. And blackmailed. And threatened with bodily harm. Thereþs a way out, of course, but it requires breaking the law. The case before him involves powerful people to whom moral codes are the stuff of farce, people who will balk at nothing. If Quinn agrees to preside dishonestly, he can save himself and those he cares for most. But if not, his ruin seems certain. Though this is Margolinþs fifth time out (The Burning Man, 1996, etc.), his prose has gotten no more elegant with practice, but, still,heþll have you rooting for the good Richard Quinn.
From the Publisher
"Another strong outing by Margolin."
Chicago Tribune
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553502183
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/13/1998
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 6 Cassettes, 9 hrs.
  • Product dimensions: 4.34 (w) x 7.17 (h) x 1.86 (d)

Meet the Author

Phillip Margolin
Phillip Margolin is the author of fifteen New York Times bestsellers. Each novel displays a unique, compelling insider’s view of criminal behavior which comes from his long background as a criminal defense attorney who has handled thirty murder cases. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

Good To Know

From 1965 to 1967, Margolin was a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia, West Africa.

In our interview, Margolin tells us more about himself: "I have a terrific marriage -- 34 years and going strong -- two terrific children who make me proud, and I am the president of Chess for Success, a nonprofit that uses chess to build self-esteem and to trick elementary and middle school children into learning study skills that will help them do well in school. We are currently in 35 Title I elementary schools and six middle schools."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Phillip M. Margolin
    1. Education:
      B.A. in Government, American University, 1965; New York University School of Law, 1970

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Leroy Dennis began making dire predictions about the driving conditions as soon as the police dispatcher said that the scene of the shooting was a mansion on Crestview Drive. A week of torrential rains had devastated Oregon. Rivers were flooding, towns were being evacuated, power failures were the norm and mud slides were closing roads and highways around the state. The worst slides in Portland were in the hills that loomed above city center. Crestview Drive was at the top of Portland's highest hill.

Lou Anthony took the most direct route to the crime scene. A mountain of oozing earth almost stopped the homicide detectives halfway up Southwest Chandler Road. A series of flares had been spread along the pavement to warn off motorists. The unearthly rain, the devouring darkness on the edges of the headlights and the curling smoke from the flares made Anthony wonder if he had detoured into a corner of Hades.

"What have we got, Leroy?" Anthony asked as he maneuvered around the slide.

"A James Allen called in the 911," the slender black detective answered. "He works for the owner, Lamar Hoyt. Allen says that there are two dead. A man broke in and shot Hoyt. Then the wife shot the perp."

"Hoyt! That's Ellen Crease's husband."

"Isn't Crease the state senator who used to be a cop?"

Anthony nodded. "She was good, too, and a crack shot."

Dennis shook his head. "This guy sure picked the wrong house to burgle."

There were few streetlights on Crestview Drive and the road was pitch-black in spots, but Anthony and Dennis had no trouble finding the crime scene. This part of the West Hills had been carved into large estates and there were only a few homes on the narrow country lane. A high brick wall marked the boundary of the Hoyt estate. Just above the wall, the branches of a massive oak tree flailed helplessly against the elements like the tiring arms of a fading boxer. Anthony stopped in front of a wrought-iron gate. A yellow and black metal sign affixed to the seven-foot, spear-tipped bars warned that the estate was protected by an electronic security system. A black metal box with a slit for a plastic card stood even with the driver's window. Beside it was a speakerphone. Anthony was about to try it when Dennis noticed that the gate was slightly ajar. He dashed into the storm and pushed it open.

When Dennis was back in the car, Anthony drove slowly up a winding drive toward the three-story Tudor mansion that loomed over the landscape. Most of the house was dark, but there were lights on in a downstairs room. The driveway ended at a turn-around. As soon as Anthony brought the car to a stop the ornately carved front door swung open and a frightened man in a robe and pajamas dashed into the rain. He was just under six feet tall and slender. The rain matted his uncombed, graying hair and spotted the lenses of his wire-rimmed glasses.

"They're upstairs in the master bedroom," he said, pointing toward the second floor. "She won't leave him. I've called for an ambulance."

The man led the detectives into a cavernous entry hall, where an immense Persian carpet covered a good portion of the hardwood floor. Before them was a wide staircase with a polished oak banister.

Anthony brushed the rain from his thinning red hair. He was a large man with a square jaw, a broken nose and pale blue eyes. The detective's shoulders were too wide and his clothes never fit properly. Under his raincoat he wore a brown tweed sports jacket that was frayed at the elbows and wrinkled tan slacks. Anthony had started buttoning the jacket to conceal an emerging beer gut. The blue knit tie his son had bought him for his fortieth birthday was at half-mast.

"Just who are you, sir?" Anthony asked.

"James Allen, Mr. Hoyt's houseman."

"Okay. What happened here, Mr. Allen?"

"I live over the garage. It's across from the master bedroom. There was a shot. At first, I thought it was thunder. Then there were more shots. I ran next door and saw a man on the floor near the bed. There was a lot of blood. And Ms. Crease...she was sitting on the bed holding Mr. Hoyt. I...I think he's dead, but I can't say for sure. She wouldn't let me near him. She's got a gun."

"Take us upstairs, will you, Mr. Allen?" Anthony said.

The detectives followed the houseman up the winding stairs with barely a glance at the oil paintings and tapestries that hung over the staircase. Dennis had his gun out but felt a little foolish. It sounded as if the danger was over. Allen led them to a room at the end of a dimly lit, carpeted hall. The door to the room was open.

"Please tell Senator Crease that we're with the police," Anthony instructed Allen. The detective knew Crease well enough to call her Ellen, but he had no idea what frame of mind she was in. He wasn't taking any chances if she had a gun.

"Ms. Crease, this is James. James Allen. I have two police officers with me. They want to come into the bedroom."

Allen started in, but Anthony put a restraining hand on his arm.

"I think it will be better if you wait downstairs for the ambulance and the other officers."

Allen hesitated, then said, "Very well," and backed down the corridor.

"I'm Lou Anthony, Senator. You know me. I'm a detective with the Portland Police. My partner and I are coming into the room."

Anthony took a deep breath and stepped through the doorway. The bedroom lights were off, but the light from the hall bathed the large room in a pale yellow glow. A man sprawled on the floor roughly halfway between the door and the west wall. The dead man's legs were bent at the knee as if he had crumpled to the floor. His feet were almost touching a French Provincial armoire that stood against the south wall across from a king-size bed. The doors of the armoire were partly open and Anthony could see a television. The man's head was near the foot of the bed, surrounded by a halo of blood. Near one of his hands lay a .45-caliber handgun.

Anthony pulled his attention away from the dead man and stared at the tableau directly in front of him. Seated on the side of the bed farthest from the door, as if posing for one of Caravaggio's dark oils, was Ellen Crease. She was facing away from Anthony and the back of her plain white nightgown was spattered with blood. Lamar Hoyt's naked body lay sideways across the bed. Crease's back shielded part of his upper body from Anthony, but he could make out two entry wounds and rivulets of blood running through the thick gray hair that covered Hoyt's bearlike torso. Hoyt's large head rested in his wife's lap and Crease was rocking slightly, making little mewing sounds. Anthony noticed that her right hand was resting on her husband's massive chest and that her left hand held a .38 Special.

"Senator," Anthony said gently, "I'm going to walk around the bed."

Crease continued to rock and sob. The detective edged past the armoire, then stepped over the dead man's faded jeans and took in his navy-blue windbreaker. The dead man's hair was wet from the rain and saturated with blood. His clothing was waterlogged.

Anthony looked away and focused on Crease. She was holding the gun, but lightly, and she was staring at her husband. What was left of Hoyt's face was covered with blood that was soaking through the white nightgown. As Anthony arrived at her side, Crease looked up. Her face was tearstained and torn by grief.

* * * * * *

Forty-five minutes later, police cars, an ambulance and the van from the Medical Examiner's Office choked the driveway in front of the Hoyt mansion. While forensic experts worked the crime scene, Lou Anthony waited patiently for Ellen Crease in one of the deep, red leather armchairs in the library. The room was unusually clean and he sensed that neither Hoyt nor Crease entered it much. Anthony had examined some of the hand-tooled, leather-bound volumes stacked tightly in the floor-to-ceiling, cherrywood bookshelves. His brief inspection had uncovered no book with a spine that had been cracked. The detective was holding a volume of Hemingway short stories when Ellen Crease entered the library wearing jeans, an Oxford-blue shirt, and a baggy, dark green, Irish wool sweater.

State Senator Ellen Crease was thirty-five, but she had the compact, athletic body of a woman ten years younger. Crease's personality was as rugged as her physique. Her complexion was dark and her sleek black hair framed a face with features that were always on guard. There was nothing coy about Ellen Crease. She was an iron fist that never fit inside a velvet glove.

"Hello, Lou," Crease said, holding out her hand the way she might at a political rally. Anthony hastily replaced the book and shook it.

"I'm sorry about Lamar. How are you holding up?"

Crease shrugged. Anthony marveled at her composure. He had seen Crease's grief, but there was no trace of tears now. The detective assumed Crease was repressing any feelings she had about the death of her husband. She would also be repressing her feelings about killing the intruder, but Anthony knew the guilt would soon surface to haunt Crease as it had haunted him when he had killed a man in the line of duty. A board of inquiry had cleared Anthony. He had even been decorated. Still, it had taken several years before he could put the shooting behind him. For most people, taking a human life, even in self-defense, was very difficult to live with.

"Do you feel up to answering questions?" Anthony asked.

"I want to get this over, Lou, so let's do it."

Crease took a chair opposite Anthony and selected a slender Mouton Davidoff Cadet from a humidor on an oak end table. Anthony watched Crease light up the cigar. Her hand was remarkably steady.

"I have to give you your Miranda warnings, because there's been a shooting," Anthony said apologetically.

"Consider them given."

Anthony hesitated, uncertain whether to still read the rights. Then he thought better of it. He wanted to spare Crease as much discomfort as possible and speeding up his interview was one way to accomplish his purpose.

"Why don't you just tell me what happened?"

Crease drew in smoke from her cigar. It seemed to calm her. She closed her eyes for a moment. Anthony thought that she looked totally spent. When she spoke, Crease sounded listless.

"Lamar wanted to go to bed early, but I had to work. You know that I'm right in the middle of a primary campaign against Ben Gage for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate?"

Anthony nodded.

"There's a speech I'm supposed to give tomorrow night and a bill on the light rail I needed to study. Lamar wanted to make love before he went to sleep, so we did. Then I got up to change into a nightgown so I could go down to my study. I was going to go to the bathroom when there was a particularly bright flash of lightning. I walked over to the window. As I watched the storm there was another lightning flash. It illuminated the area around the pool. I thought I saw someone standing under one of the trees near the wall, but the light faded before I could focus on the spot. I wrote it off as a figment of my imagination."

"We found a set of footprints under one of the trees. The intruder must have been watching from there."

"Do you know who he is yet?"

"No. He wasn't carrying any ID, but it's only a matter of time before we identify him. Why don't you go on?"

For a second, Crease's self-control deserted her. She closed her eyes. Anthony waited patiently for the senator to continue.

"When I got out of the bathroom, Lamar wanted to cuddle, so I turned off the bathroom light, put on my nightgown and got in bed with him. We talked for a little while. Not long. Then I told Lamar I had to start working. I sat up on my side of the bed..."

"That's the side nearest the window and away from the bedroom door and the bathroom?" Anthony asked.


"Okay, what happened?"

"The door crashed open and this man came in. I could see he had a gun, because there was a light on in the hall."

Crease's façade cracked again, but she caught herself and was back in control quickly.

"I keep a Smith & Wesson .38 snubnose under my side of the bed. It's always loaded with hollow points. I ducked over the side to get it. I heard three shots and I came up firing. I saw the man go down. When I was certain he was dead, I turned toward Lamar."

Crease's voice grew husky and her eyes grew moist. She shook her head and took an angry pull on her smoke.

"The bastard had killed Lamar, just like that. I didn't even get to say anything to him."

Crease stopped, unable to go on.

"Are you okay?"

"Shit, no, Lou."

Anthony felt awful. He gave her a moment to collect herself.

"Look, I'm gonna cut this short. If there's anything else I need to ask, I can get it later. Just two more things, okay?"

Crease nodded.

"When I got here I found the front gate open. With all the security your husband had, why wasn't it locked?"

"It was locked, earlier. There was a power outage. We never relocked it when the power came back."

"Is that why the house alarm was off?"

"No. I set the alarm when I'm ready for bed. I was going to work for an hour or so, like I said."

"This has been hard for me, Ellen. I want you to know that. You're a real star with everyone at the Police Bureau. No one blames you for this. You did the right thing."

"I know, Lou," Crease said, cold as ice now, "I'm just sorry I didn't kill the fucker sooner, so Lamar would be..."

A crash and shouts brought Anthony to his feet. When he opened the library door, he saw two men from the Medical Examiner's Office frozen in place halfway down the stairs to the second floor. Supported between them on a stretcher was a body bag containing the corpse of Lamar Hoyt, which they were maneuvering toward a gurney that sat at the foot of the stairs. Sprawled across the gurney was a tall, muscular man dressed in jeans, a plaid, flannel shirt and a raincoat. Three police officers were trying to pin him to the gurney, which slid back and forth across the hardwood floor during the struggle. One of the officers wrenched the man's arm behind him and a second tried to apply a chokehold. The man writhed and twisted until he was facing Anthony. There was no way of missing the resemblance to Lamar Hoyt.

The officer who had the chokehold applied pressure and the man stopped struggling. One of the officers cuffed his hands behind his back. Then the three officers dragged him off the gurney and wrenched him to his feet. Before Anthony could say anything, Ellen Crease brushed past him and strode across the entryway. As soon as the intruder saw Crease his face contorted with rage and he lunged at her, screaming, "You did this, you bitch."

Crease paused in front of the man, stared at him with contempt, then slapped him across the face so hard that his head snapped sideways. Anthony grabbed Crease's arm before she could strike again.

"Who is this?" the detective asked Crease.

"This sniveling piece of shit is Lamar Hoyt, Jr."

Anthony stepped between Crease and her stepson, facing the furious man.

"Calm down," Anthony said firmly.

"That bitch killed him. She killed my father," Junior screamed.

The officers immobilized Junior, and Anthony grabbed the flannel shirt at the collar and jerked him upright. Anthony could smell liquor on his breath.

"Do you want to spend an evening in the drunk tank?"

"It wouldn't be the first time," Crease snapped. Junior lunged for her again but could not break Anthony's iron grip.

"Please wait for me in the library, Senator," Anthony commanded angrily. Crease hesitated, then strode away from the melee.

Anthony pointed toward the staircase. "That's your father's body, for Christ's sake. Let these men take care of him."

Junior stared at the body bag as if seeing it for the first time.

"Take him in there," Anthony told the officers, indicating a small sitting room just off the foyer. When the officers did as they were told, Anthony motioned them away. Junior dropped to a small sofa. Anthony sat beside him. Hoyt's son was a little over six feet tall and husky. His large head was topped by curly black hair, his eyes were brown and his nose was thick and stubby, like his father's.

"Do I have to keep these cuffs on?"

"I'm okay," Junior mumbled.

"I have these taken off and you act up, it's a night in jail."

Anthony motioned and the officer with the key unlocked the cuffs. Junior rubbed his wrists. He looked properly chagrined.

"What was that all about? That screaming?"

Junior's features hardened. "Why isn't she in custody?"

"Senator Crease?"

"I know she killed him."

"Mr. Hoyt, your father was murdered by a burglar. He broke into the bedroom and shot your father. Senator Crease shot him. Ellen Crease didn't kill your father, she tried to save him."

"I'll never believe that. I know that bitch is behind this. She wanted him dead and she got her wish."

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Interviews & Essays

On Thursday, April 30th, welcomed Phillip Margolin to discuss THE UNDERTAKER'S WIDOW.

Moderator: Welcome to, Phillip Margolin. We are thrilled to come online to discuss THE UNDERTAKER'S WIDOW.

Phillip M Margolin: Good! This is fun!

Kimmerly from Nebraska: I loved GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN, and I can't wait to read THE UNDERTAKER'S WIDOW. Could you tell us what it is about, in your own words?

Phillip M Margolin: Okay. There are two main characters in THE UNDERTAKER'S WIDOW. The first is Ellen Crease, and she's a tough-as-nails state senator who used to be a policewoman, and when the book starts, she is challenging the Republican U.S. Senator from Oregon in the primary. And Ellen is a cigar-smoking far-right-wing, law-and-order, no-nonsense woman. When the book starts, a burglar has broken into the mansion where she lives with her husband. Her husband is Lamar Hoyt, and he is a self-made multimillionaire who started out in the mortuary business. And the burglar murders Lamar, and Crease, who is an ex-cop and a deadly shot, kills the burglar. So it looks like she is defending herself in a home burglary, but things soon get very strange, and she is charged with conspiracy to murder her husband. Now, the other main character is Richard Quinn, who is a very intellectual judge on the circuit court, and he's lived a very ivory-tower existence. He's very ethical, highly moral, and he is assigned to sit on Crease's death penalty case. That's as much of the plot as I can give away without ruining it for you, but because of some very bizarre twists and turns, Judge Quinn is soon in a position where in order to save his own life, he has to figure out whether Crease is guilty or innocent. And I can't give anything more away, because it would spoil it. There are a lot of surprises in the book; the plot just keeps on twisting and turning until the end, including a surprise ending.

Thumper from Indianapolis, IN: Hello. First let me say that I adore your books. My question is twofold: Is Hollywood banging on your door about turning any of your books into a movie, and could you trust Hollywood to do justice to any of your works? I'm mainly thinking about GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN and how ticked off I would be if they ruined it.

Phillip M Margolin: Well, the answer is that my second book, THE LAST INNOCENT MAN, was made into a movie by HBO in 1987, and it starred Ed Harris, who either won or was nominated for an Oscar for "Apollo 13," and the movie was really excellent. I had a wonderful experience with everybody connected with the movie, and they definitely did it justice. It's on video, and it was nominated for six Ace Awards, which is the cable equivalent of the Emmy. I had a part in the movie. I was the jury foreman in the big murder case, so I'm the guy who gives the verdict at the end of the trial. Now, my fourth novel, AFTER DARK, is currently in the process of being made into a movie, and it's been green-lighted by a major studio, and they've hired a director who's done some pretty good movies before. Also, I've read the screenplay, and the screenplay is very good. It's very different from the book, but they kept the basic guts of the book. The reason why a lot of times you'll read the book and then see the movie and think that the movie is so different from the book, is because the shooting script for a two-hour movie has to be around 120 pages. So, of necessity, they have to cut out subplots, and a lot of times they'll consolidate characters. And a lot has to be done to fit the book into shooting time, so that's why they make it different. And the last thing to answer your question: GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN was optioned a few years ago, but the screenplay was terrible, and they fortunately never made the movie. Hopefully, someday they will make a good version of it.

Greg Barrington from Newark, NJ: In the beginning of your novel you thank a number of people who helped explain the technical information needed to write THE UNDERTAKER'S WIDOW. What sort of information did they help you with? What sort of research did you do to write this book?

Phillip M Margolin: Okay, well the biggest thing is that blood-spatter evidence plays a large part in the book, and I consulted with a person at the Oregon State Crime Lab who was kind enough to work with me. I wanted to do something with the blood-spatter evidence in the book, and I wasn't sure you could do that in real life. So, what I did was I presented a problem to this fellow, Brian Ostrum, and I said, "This is what I would like to have happen, can it be done?" and he set the whole thing up for me to show me how you could do it. Then in addition to that, I read a few books on blood-spatter evidence, and then in my own cases, (I was a practicing criminal defense lawyer for 25 years) I have had blood-spatter evidence introduced by the state, and I've had to consult with experts about it, and so I was familiar with it in that regard. Now, there are a number of other things that I had to learn about, and what I generally do is talk to somebody who is an expert in that area, and they generally are very nice, usually help me out. Sometimes it's very simple. For instance, there is a character in the book who makes homemade belts for a living, and I have a friend in Canada who does that for a living, and originally this character in the book was going to be a fashion model, but my editor said that that was too much of a cliche, so I remembered that my friend sold belts and made belts, so I called my friend up to tell me everything about it so I could make the character real.

Bim from Boston, MA: I read that you were a criminal defense attorney for 25 years -- that must have given you amazing insight into the minds of criminals. Is this true? How has your previous career given insight for your writing?

Phillip M Margolin: Well, being a criminal defense lawyer for a quarter of a century has been a real help in my writing. First of all, as far as the way criminals think, you know the people that I did lunch with for 25 years, so it gave me a chance to learn the way criminals think, and how they approach life in general, so that when I try to create certain types of characters, it makes it a lot easier. I can just remember common mental traits that many of the people I talked with had. The other thing, of course, is when I am writing a scene in the book, where I am writing a murder trial or any kind of courtroom scene, I have done 30 homicide cases, and 12 of them were death penalty cases. I've argued in the United States Supreme Court, and I've argued in the Oregon State Supreme Court, so when I am doing a scene in a courtroom, I know the way people talk, I know the way they act, I know how to set up a cross-examination in the book, because I've set up cross-examinations in real life on many occasions. And of course, I've been in front of many judges and tried cases in front of many lawyers, so I have those real-life experiences to help make the characters in the book seem real.

Joe from Detroit, MI: What techniques do you find most useful for conveying suspense and anxiety with written words?

Phillip M Margolin: Well, when I'm trying to write a scene where a character is experiencing a certain type of emotion, I try to remember a situation in my own life that evoked that emotion in me, and I try to recreate that feeling in myself. For instance, I've never been stalked by a serial killer in my house, but I have, as most people have, had situations where I was alone in the house, and it was dark and spooky, and I've heard footsteps or a creeping, and I try to remember how I felt in that situation, so that's one thing that helps. As far as structuring the book to be suspenseful, what I try to do is lead the reader to believe that something is going to happen, and I make it the logical thing to happen, and hopefully I have it set up so that the reader has made a logical deduction, and they think they know what's going to happen, and then I have what actually happens in the book be totally different. And once you do that, if you fool the reader the first time in the book, the reader is not going to trust his or her judgement again, and it makes it easier for me to fool the reader, and lead the reader where I want to go later in the book. And I try very hard to make the books as fun as possible by putting as many twists and turns in the plot as possible. So I keep the reader on edge and unsure of what is going to happen.

Jerzy from Michigan: When you were practicing law, did you ever think about becoming a judge? Why or why not?

Phillip M Margolin: Actually, right around the time that GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN became a big hit, I was recommended by the Oregon State Bar Board of Governors to the Governor of Oregon on a short list of candidates for the Oregon Court of Appeals, so there were many people who applied for the position, and I was one of a few who were actually recommended. Ever since I started being a lawyer, I have loved appellate law, and one-quarter of my practice was always as an appellate lawyer, and I thought it would be a very exciting job to have. But being an appellate court judge is very demanding, and I realized I could not be an appellate court judge and write at the same time, so I didn't put my name in at the next opening.

Megan Haggarty from Milton, MA: How long have you been writing? Do you ever think of going back to law?

Phillip M Margolin: I've had a very weird writing career. I've really had two writing careers. My first novel, HEARTSTONE, was published in 1978 when I was 34 years old. Then in 1981, THE LAST INNOCENT MAN was published. Between 1978 and 1981 is when my law practice really took off, and I started handling a lot of murder cases, major drug cases, big cases on appeal, and also my son was born in 1975 and my daughter was born in 1978, so the writing at that point was just a hobby. I was spending a lot of time with my kids, and I was having a lot of fun with the law practice because I had so many exciting cases, and so I put the writing on the back burner. And then in 1993, after a 12-year absence from writing, GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN was published, and I've had this second career. I wrote the first four novels with a full-time law practice, and I wrote part of THE BURNING MAN with a full-time practice, but the reason that I stopped was because I travel so much with the books now that they're bestsellers. I might go back to practicing law, I can do it anytime I want. I can do the writing, the law practice, but I can't do the writing, the law practice, and the promotion at the same time. As far as if I ever will go back to being a lawyer, if I wanted to, I would do it. I always loved law, and I never stopped loving it, it's just that now I'm doing something else I really love doing.

Jesse Miller from Columbia, SC: Who was the inspiration behind Ellen Crease? I love the fact that she smoked cigars!

Phillip M Margolin: Ellen Crease was made up from my own imagination. She's not based on anyone, but I wanted her to be a real "tough guy," and I was trying to think, what could I do with her to make the reader know she was tough, and one of the things I decided to do with her was to make her smoke cigars.

James from Williamsburg, VA: Do you have any advice for a lawyer ready to make the switch to novelist?

Phillip M Margolin: Well, yes, the first piece of advice is never, ever, ever quit your law job to be a novelist, and the reason is, it's very hard to get published, and the people that do get published, it's very hard to make enough to support yourself. Now, on the other hand, I would very strongly urge anyone who wants to write to write, because writing is one of those things you can do with another job. When I had my full-time law practice, and my wife and I were raising the kids, I would get up very early on Saturday and Sunday, before everybody else was up and about, and I would get in three or four hours of writing a day, and that meant that I was writing 6 to 8 hours each weekend, which is a typical workday. What you need to do is to have patience and think out your plot, don't start writing until you have an ending; and I took three years between getting the idea for GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN and figuring out the ending. So don't rush, and then do an extensive outline, and just write on the weekends, and do your first draft without worrying about how it sounds, and then rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. And it may take you three or four years to get the book written, but you can do it while still being a lawyer. I think Scott Turow took 12 years to write PRESUMED INNOCENT. Then, if you get lucky, and the book that you write is successful, you can make a choice to leave the law for writing.

Belinda from San Diego, CA: As a lawyer I hope you don't mind my asking what you think about Daniel Petrocelli's new book about the O. J. trial. Since it just came out, you might not have read it, but what do you think about his claims to write this book not for his own well-being, but for the sake of the truth. Thank you for taking my question.

Phillip M Margolin: Well, first of all, I have not read the book. I haven't read any books about the O. J. case, and I don't care about the O. J. case. I didn't watch any of it. And I wouldn't know why he wrote the book unless I knew him personally and talked to him to find out why he wrote it. So I don't know.

Rory from Florida: Hey Phillip, I have two questions for you:
1) How do you overcome writer's block? 2) What are your future plans for writing?
Thanks a bunch!!!!

Phillip M Margolin: There are two ways to overcome writer's block. The first thing is to write a very extensive outline of the novel before I start writing any of the book, and my outline will take about three months to write, and it will be about 30-40 pages for a 500-page draft. And I act like I am telling a friend a story. I type it on a word processor, but I tell it the same way as if I were telling a friend. The way this helps is I can work out plotting problems before I start writing, and I also can work out the whole book before I start writing it. And that helps prevent writer's block because I've worked out the whole plot from A to Z before I've started to write the book. Now, another thing is if you don't start writing until you've got your ending, then with the outline or the ending, it's like a road map, so you know where you're going. And then the last thing, sometimes when I am writing, I will have a problem, say I have written chapter four, and I know what happens in chapter six, because I have written my outline, but I may have a problem figuring out what is going to be the link between chapter four and chapter six. So, I'll just stop writing, and I'll go for a nice long walk, and usually after about an hour of just walking -- I usually walk with my wife -- and without thinking about the book, the answer will just pop into my head. Finally, just ask yourself, "What if -- ?" and take your situation where you're blocked, and say, "What if this happened? What if that happened?" and you keep on going further and further along in this vein until the action gets silly, and then you back up, and go off in a different direction, and somewhere along the line you'll figure out how to get out of your problem. As to my future plans, I've actually finished the first draft of CARDONI'S HAND, which is the tentative title of my next book, and I've got a draft written, and when I finish my book tour for THE UNDERTAKER'S WIDOW, then I'll go back and try to work on the draft again, because it's just in the first stages, and it needs a lot of work right now. That book should come out sometime next year, but it hasn't been slotted for any particular release date. It takes me a long time to edit, about four or six months with the editors, and before I even send it to them, I work on the book a lot.

Moderator: It was a pleasure speaking with you this evening, Phillip Margolin. Congratulations on the publication of THE UNDERTAKER'S WIDOW, and best of luck to you. Do you have any final words for the online audience?

Phillip M Margolin: I really appreciate the fact that so many people took the time to chat with me. It's really flattering, and I appreciate it.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 2, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    I am a fan and try to read all Margolin's books. This one, howev

    I am a fan and try to read all Margolin's books. This one, however, I put down when the judge was on his way to his speaking engagement. The plot is predictable, the dialogue juvenile and the characters wooden. I really regret not being able to get my money back. I would not advise anyone to read this. A half a star would really be more accurate but that only for the effort it took to write this not for content.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2014

    Another great read from a great author!!!

    Don't know how I missed this Margolin novel as I thought I had read everything he has written. The Undertaker's Widow is typical of a Margolin novel.... in that once you start to's very hard to put down. For anyone who hasn't read, or discovered Phillip Margolin novels, are in for a real treat and endless great stories!

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    Posted July 8, 2012

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    Posted September 28, 2012

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    Posted July 13, 2013

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