The “master of heart-pounding suspense” returns with a brand new series and a USA Today bestseller The Third Victim is New York Times bestseller Phillip Margolin at his very best.
A woman stumbles onto a dark road in rural Oregon—tortured, battered, and bound. She tells a horrific story about being kidnapped, then tortured, until she finally managed to escape. She was the lucky one—two other women, with similar burns and bruises, were found dead.
The surviving victim identifies the house where she was held captive and the owner, Alex Mason—a prominent local attorney—is arrested. Although he loudly insists upon his innocence, his wife’s statements about his sexual sadism and the physical evidence found at the scene, his summer home, is damning.
Regina Barrister is a legendary criminal defense attorney, known as “The Sorceress” for her courtroom victories. But she’s got a secret, one that threatens her skill, her reputation, and, most of all, her clients. And she’s agreed to take on the seemingly impossible task of defending Alex Mason.
Robin Lockwood, a young lawyer and former MMA fighter, has just left a clerkship at the Oregon Supreme Court to work for Regina Barrister. The Alex Mason trial is her first big one, a likely death penalty case, and she’s second chair to Regina. Increasingly, she’s worried her boss’s behavior and the details in the case against their client don’t quite add up.
About the Author
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:B.A. in Government, American University, 1965; New York University School of Law, 1970
Read an Excerpt
Caleb White slowed his pickup as soon as he spotted the DEER CROSSING sign at the side of the two-lane country road. Caleb had lived his whole life in Whisper Lake and he always slowed down when he saw it. The city dwellers, who only came out a few weeks a year, usually ignored the sign and sped on, but there were no lights on this heavily forested stretch, and when Caleb was eight years old, a three-hundred-pound buck had bounded out of the forest and totaled the family car.
A burst of static from the radio momentarily distracted Caleb just as something staggered out of the forest and into the road. He jammed on his brakes and the pickup fishtailed. If he hadn't slowed down, he might not have been able to stop in time. As it was, the truck ended up sideways and Caleb found himself slumped over the steering wheel, his heart in overdrive. He closed his eyes for a second to calm down. Then he peered out of the passenger window. It was pitch-black and he couldn't see a thing.
Caleb backed the truck onto the shoulder. As he turned, the headlights panned over a body sprawled on the road. He put on his warning lights and jumped out of the cab. A woman was laying on her stomach, her legs bare and the tail of her blouse barely covering her panties.
"Miss, are you okay?" Caleb asked as he walked toward her.
The woman stirred, then weakly pushed herself up onto her hands and knees. She lifted her head and stared at Caleb through strands of long, unwashed, uncombed brown hair.
"Help me," she begged.
"It's okay," Caleb said as he drew closer and got his first clear view. There was duct tape around the woman's wrists and ankles, her face was caked with blood, and her legs were scratched and bruised. The blouse was torn in several places and it hung open. Caleb took off his jacket. He was almost to her when the stench of urine, feces, and body odor stopped him in his tracks.
"Please," she pleaded. Caleb moved.
"I'll get you to a hospital," he assured the woman as he draped the coat across her shoulders. Then he grabbed her under her arms and helped her stand. As she rose, the blouse parted, revealing burn marks and cuts on the woman's ribs and breasts.
Caleb pulled his eyes away and eased the woman into the passenger seat. As soon as he shut her door, she slumped against it. Caleb headed for town and speed-dialed his cousin.
"Yeah?" Harry said.
"It's Caleb. I'm on the way to the hospital with a girl."
"What happened?!" "It's not like that. You should meet me at the hospital. This girl ... She came out of the forest and she's hurt. I think someone did something to her. Something real bad."
* * *
Whisper Lake, population 2,074, was the county seat of Hammond County, population 17,039. The population was artificially inflated during the summer, when the rich city folk who owned the cabins that ringed the lake and the tourists who stayed at the Whisper Lake Resort came to town. But as soon as school started, the population plummeted and the only tourists who remained were the avid fly fishermen who sloshed through the Bear Run River and the hunters who stalked the woods during deer season.
The cops in Hammond County didn't have much to do most of the year. If it wasn't for the universal staples of lawlessness — speeding, domestic violence, and bar fights — the deputies in the Hammond County Sheriff's Office would be sitting around all day playing video games or talking sports. That is why Caleb White's call induced an adrenaline rush in his cousin.
Harry White, a former high school quarterback and marine, was thirty-one years old. He had curly black hair, a straight nose, blue eyes, and a dark complexion. When Harry arrived at the hospital, the EMTs were lifting the young woman onto a gurney. He went over to Caleb.
Caleb was upset, and it took a few minutes for Harry to understand what had occurred on the country road.
"You stay in the waiting room," Harry told his cousin. "Stan's on the way and he'll take your statement. Okay?"
"You all right?"
Harry laid a hand on Caleb's shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
"You done a good deed tonight," he said before following the gurney into the hospital. The EMTs rolled the woman into an examining room. Harry started to follow, but Dr. Nicholas Hayes, a hunting buddy, told Harry to wait outside while he examined the girl.
Harry paced the hall for twenty minutes before Hayes came out. The doctor looked grim.
"How is she, Nick?" Harry asked.
"She's been beaten, tortured, and starved, so not good."
"Will she recover? Is there any permanent damage?"
"With time, she'll heal physically. It's her mental state I'm worried about."
"Did she tell you her name?"
"It's Meredith Fenner."
"Did she say who did this to her?"
"I didn't ask. I figured that was your department."
"Can I talk to her?"
"Yes, but make it short. As soon as you're done, I'm going to give her a sedative so she can get some rest."
Harry opened the door. Meredith's eyes fixed on him. She looked terrified. Her black eyes, broken nose, and split lip were evidence of a savage beating, and it took an effort for Harry to keep from showing emotion.
Harry held up his shield. "Miss Fenner, my name is Harry White and I'm a detective with the Hammond County Sheriff's Office. Do you feel up to answering a few questions? I'll make this short, but I want to start tracking down the person who did this to you."
"I ... I don't want to talk about it. Please."
Harry walked over to the bed. "I can understand that. But we need to find the person who assaulted you."
Meredith turned her face away. "I can't."
"Can you at least tell me if it was a man or a woman? Was there one person or more than one?"
"A ... a man. One man."
"Can you describe him?"
"Not now, please. I ... I don't want to think about what ... what he did to me."
Harry wanted to push a little more, but he held himself in check. He tried to imagine what Meredith had gone through, and he decided that the best gift he could give her was peace and quiet.
Regina Barrister entered stage left and every eye turned toward her. Even though Regina was actually striding into a ballroom in the Hilton, the description was accurate. A former lover had once told Regina that her regal bearing and charisma transformed any place she appeared into a theater.
In her youth, Regina's ivory complexion, crystal clear blue eyes, and dazzling smile had caused men to catch their breath. Regina, now fifty-eight, was still beautiful, her crown of hair kept golden by Portland's best salon and her figure kept trim by her personal trainer, but she was a presence now and not merely an object of desire.
Regina's father, Abraham Batiashivili, had emigrated from Russia to the United States in 1947. Abraham had learned English by reading British mystery novels. When he realized that Americans had a hard time pronouncing his last name, he changed it to Barrister. The names her parents bestowed upon their daughter turned out to be prophetic. Webster's New World Dictionary defines regina as "the official title of a reigning queen" and barrister as a "member of the legal profession who presents and pleads cases in court." Regina reigned over every courtroom in which she appeared and her record of victories attested to her skill as a trial attorney.
The Oregon State Bar had put on a one-day seminar on recent developments in criminal law. The last lecture had concluded half an hour ago and the participants were gathering for drinks in the Hilton ballroom. Regina scanned the crowd, then walked over to a group that included Stanley Cloud, the chief justice of Oregon's Supreme Court, and Robin Lockwood, one of the justice's law clerks.
Robin was five eight, with a wiry build, blue eyes, a straight nose, high cheekbones, and blond hair that was cut short and molded to her oval face. Regina had seen Lockwood earlier in the day when Robin lectured about recent developments in federal criminal law. She'd been impressed by Robin's grasp of her subject and her sense of humor during the Q &A that followed her talk.
Justice Cloud had shared the program with his clerk and he'd focused on new developments in the state's criminal law. The chief justice was in excellent shape for a sixty-three-year-old, and his broad shoulders and narrow waist made him look ten years younger. He had a full head of snowy white hair, pale green eyes, a slightly crooked nose, and a mouth that often displayed a winsome grin but could straighten with displeasure when he was confronted by a fool during oral argument.
When Regina reached the group, she found that they were in the middle of a heated debate about the death penalty.
"Executing an inmate with a lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment," Robin insisted.
"Come on, Robin," said Kyle Bergland, a Multnomah County district attorney. "It's certainly more humane than hanging, the electric chair, or a firing squad."
"Not true," Robin said. "There have been numerous reports of prisoners gasping for air, heaving, and clenching their teeth in obvious pain during an execution by injection."
Alex Mason, a senior partner in one of Portland's biggest firms, laughed derisively. He was an ugly man of medium height with a small paunch and rounded shoulders.
"Killers can't complain if they suffer," Mason said. "They don't mind if their victims suffer. What's sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. And your argument is moot anyway. The U.S. Supreme Court already decided that Oklahoma could use ..."
Mason frowned as he tried to remember the name of the drug Oklahoma used in lethal injections.
"Midazolam," Allison Mason interjected hesitantly. Alex Mason's wife was a stunning redhead who was easily twenty years her husband's junior.
"Thank you, dear," Alex snapped as he stared angrily at his wife.
Allison cast her eyes down and hunched her shoulders.
While he was talking, Alex had looked over Regina's shoulder and across the room. "There are the Potters, Allison," he said abruptly. "I've got to talk to Neil about a case. Come on."
Allison followed obediently, and Regina frowned as she watched the couple walk off.
"What do you think about lethal injections, Regina?" Bergland asked.
"I try not to think about them," she replied with a smile. Then she turned to Robin.
"I enjoyed your presentation."
Regina noticed that Robin did not appear to be intimidated by her, which was often not the case with young attorneys.
"Stanley says you're leaving the court soon and you've started job hunting," Regina continued.
"That's right," Robin said.
"One of my associates is moving back east. Does criminal law interest you?" "That's my main interest," Robin replied, keeping her voice even.
Regina turned to the chief justice. "Would you mind if I spirited your clerk away?"
"Not in the least," Cloud replied with a smile.
"Would you like to join me in the bar?" Regina asked Robin.
* * *
"Justice Cloud set this up, didn't he?" Robin asked after they'd settled in a corner of the bar.
"Of course," Regina replied. "He knew I was in the market for fresh blood and he told me I'd be a fool if I didn't talk to you. He says you're one of the best clerks he's ever had and," she added with a smile, "the clerk with the most interesting résumé."
Robin threw her head back and laughed.
"I understand you worked your way through Yale Law School by fighting in mixed martial arts bouts under the name 'Rockin' Robin' Lockwood," Regina said.
"I did, but I'm not the only Yale Law grad to play a sport professionally. Supreme Court justice Byron 'Whizzer' White worked his way through the law school by playing professional football. He was the leading rusher in the National Football League."
"Is that so? And was his GPA as high as yours?"
Robin blushed. "I don't know."
"You're not going to get modest on me now, are you?"
Robin grinned. "I'll try not to."
"Martial arts training will certainly stand you in good stead when you go to trial," Regina said. "I've often thought of criminal law as the intellectual equivalent of a back-alley brawl. How did you get into MMA?"
"I grew up on a farm in Iowa, one of five children and the only girl, so I had to be tough. My dad was a conference wrestling champ in high school and my brothers all wrestled, so I wanted to, but my high school didn't have a girls team. That meant I had to wrestle with the boys."
"How did that go over?" Regina asked.
"Not well at first, but my coach was supportive and two of my brothers were on the team. They stood up for me and the other boys came around when they saw that I didn't want them to cut me any slack."
"How did you do?"
"I made varsity my senior year as a one-hundred-and-ten-pounder and placed third in the district meet," Robin said proudly. "That was the best any girl had ever done in the state."
"Did you wrestle in college?"
"No. I went to the state university, and that's a top Division I program. There was no way I could make the wrestling team, so I started training in mixed martial arts at a local gym. By the time I started law school, I was ranked nationally. Women's MMA doesn't pay a lot, but I was making enough, coupled with my scholarship, to pay my law school tuition."
"Why did you decide to go to law school?"
"In the small town where I grew up, I was the first girl to try out for the wrestling team. Some of the parents went ballistic when they found out their little darlings would have daily intimate contact with someone of the female persuasion. They complained to the principal and the school board, and the board said I couldn't wrestle on the boys team. So my dad hired a lawyer; we sued the bastards and won. That's when I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, so I could help other people who were being pushed around."
"You're lucky your dad is so supportive."
"Was," Robin said as her happy expression melted. "Dad passed away just after I was accepted at Yale."
"Me, too. He was a great dad."
"He sounds like it. When did you decide to stop fighting professionally?" Regina asked, changing the subject because Robin was upset.
"When I started worrying about getting punch-drunk. By my second semester at Yale, I was ranked ninth in the lightweight division. The number- two-ranked contender was supposed to fight an elimination bout, but her opponent was injured while she was training. They asked me if I'd fill in. I started thinking that I had a shot at a championship, so I took the fight, even though my coach advised me not to." Robin smiled sheepishly. "I should have listened, because I really got my bell rung. Kerrigan was way faster than I was and no one had ever hit me as hard. Just before she knocked me out, it dawned on me that I had no business being in the Octagon with her. After that fight, I had short-term memory loss, headaches, the whole nine yards. My doctor advised me to concentrate on law school, but I'd already made up my mind that I was better off getting beaten up by my professors."
"Smart girl," Regina said with a smile. Then she stopped smiling and looked Lockwood in the eye. "If I offered you a job with my firm, would you take it?"
"You bet," Robin replied without hesitation.
"Then consider yourself hired."
"I'm not sure when I can start," Robin said.
Regina smiled. "Oh, that's easy. I already cleared it with Stanley. You start next week."
* * *
Regina and Robin talked while they finished their drinks; then Robin excused herself because she had an hour's drive to Salem, Oregon's capital, where the Oregon Supreme Court and her apartment were located. Regina paid the bill and wandered into the lobby. When she was certain she was not being observed, she walked over to the bank of elevators, reached for the UP button, and froze. She couldn't remember the floor or the room she wanted.
Regina dropped her hand to her side. Her stomach knotted and she started to perspire. Then she remembered her purse. She snapped it open and jabbed her fingers inside, her anxiety rising until she found the paper on which she had written the information she needed. Relief washed over her just as one of the elevators opened and a group of laughing teenagers got out.
Regina entered the car, consulted the paper, and pressed the button for the ninth floor. While the car rose, she took deep breaths, and she was composed by the time the elevator stopped. Moments later, she was knocking on a door at the end of the ninth-floor corridor. Shortly after she knocked, Stanley Cloud let her into his suite.
Excerpted from "The Third Victim"
Copyright © 2018 Phillip Margolin.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part One: The Third Victim,
Part Two: The Fourth Victim,
Also by Phillip Margolin,
About the Author,