A cold-blooded murder. A beautiful suspect. An honest judge forced to do the unthinkable.
New York Times bestselling author Phillip Margolin is a master of legal suspense. In this explosive novel, a simple case of self-defense becomes a nightmare in which justice itself is held hostage.
Judge Richard Quinn is young, idealistic, and honest to a fault. That's why he's handed the most sensational homicide case in Oregon history. Locked in a race for the U.S. Senate, Ellen Crease gunned down the intruder who murdered her wealthy husband. In a single, brutal instant she became a widow, a victim, and a hero.
Yet disturbing questions remain. What secrets did the man who started his fortune running mortuaries keep that might have cost him his life? What about the son frozen out of his will? Or his wife's political enemies? And what about Ellen Crease herself?
Soon it becomes clear that a deadly plot of murder, blackmail, passion, and double cross is unfolding around Judge Richard Quinn. And unless he breaks the rules, justice will not only be blind, it will be the final victim.
From the Paperback edition.
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About the Author
From the Paperback edition.
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
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 turnaround. 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.
From the Paperback edition.
On Thursday, April 30th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Phillip Margolin to discuss THE UNDERTAKER'S WIDOW.
Moderator: Welcome to barnesandnoble.com, 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?
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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 read.....it's very hard to put down. For anyone who hasn't read, or discovered Phillip Margolin novels,.....you are in for a real treat and endless great stories!
LITTLE TO PREDICTABLE EARLY ON BUT THEN A SURPRISE ENDING.
Although there were some things in the plot that were a bit incongruous, this was still a quick and enjoyable read.
Kept me on the edge unril the end