In Phillip Margolin’s Murder at Black Oaks, Attorney Robin Lockwood finds herself at an isolated retreat in the Oregon mountains, one with a tragic past and a legendary curse, and surrounded by many suspects and confronted with an impossible crime.
Defense Attorney Robin Lockwood is summoned by retired District Attorney Francis Melville to meet with him at Black Oaks, the manor he owns up in the Oregon mountains. The manor has an interesting history – originally built in 1628 in England, there’s a murderous legend and curse attached to the mansion. Melville, however, wants Lockwood’s help in a legal matter – righting a wrongful conviction from his days as a DA. A young man, Jose Alvarez, was convicted of murdering his girlfriend only for Melville, years later when in private practice, to have a client of his admit to the murder and to framing the man Melville convicted. Unable to reveal what he knew due to attorney client confidence, Melville now wants Lockwood’s help in getting that conviction overturned.
Successful in their efforts, Melville invites Lockwood up to Black Oaks for a celebration. Lockwood finds herself among an odd group of invitees – including the bitter, newly released, Alvarez. When Melville is found murdered, with a knife connected to the original curse, Lockwood finds herself faced with a conundrum – who is the murder among them and how to stop them before there’s another victim.
What’s it about (in a nutshell):
Murder at Black Oaks by Phillip Margolin is the sixth book in the Robin Lockwood series and works well as a stand-alone novel. This story is a locked room mystery in the cursed home of Blackwood Oaks in the Oregon mountains.
Initial Expectations (before beginning the book):
I love the setting described in the blurb and can’t wait to read more about it. I also enjoy a locked room mystery and its challenges, so I’m excited about that aspect of the novel. However, I wonder if this will work well as a stand-alone since I haven’t read the other five books in the series.
Actual Reading Experience:
I loved the setting, which I talk about more below and the solution to the mystery. The murderer was a complete surprise, and I thought the manner was ingenious but plausible. I do like to be wowed by creative locked-room murders!
I also love the Agatha Christie-ness of this story. The way the murder is solved, the reveal, and the writing technique are very reminiscent of my memory of an Agatha Christie novel. And who better to emulate in a murder mystery than the queen of murder mysteries.
However, I struggled with this story because of the odd side plots…yes, plural. I followed the story as Robin fought to get a man named Alvarez out of prison at the behest of Hardy. I even transitioned okay through the abrupt change to the locked room mystery plot. Where the story lost me was with the second wrongful imprisonment plot change before the murder was even solved. I felt I had missed something important in the story until I realized that the second wrongful imprisonment case was like a poorly timed interlude from the main plot. I love focused plots, and this definitely was not that.
Robin Lockwood is a female attorney who likes to compete in cage fights. Physically, she is undeniably strong. I would always bet on her in a physical battle, and she is very book-smart. However, I scratched my head at her lack of perception skills regarding those around her. She doesn’t always seem like the best judge of people, and I couldn’t figure out if that was a ploy or a genuine part of her character.
Narration & Pacing:
The narration is in the third person POV focusing on Robin Lockwood. It works very well for the style of writing the story is told using. The style reminded me of Agatha Christie’s novels, though I must admit I haven’t read one in many years. It did jog my memory of the different Christie novels I have read.
The pace stays remarkably quick, which surprised me due to the lack of thrills. The quickness is achieved through loads of suspense and short chapters, and I was thrilled with the pace.
The aspect I enjoyed the most in this story is the setting. It’s perfect! I cannot imagine a setting that sparks the imagination more than this one, especially for the genre.
Black Oaks, a manor built in England in 1628, ended up razed due to a history of murder, supernatural events, and legendary curses. That did not stop Katherine Hardy from recreating it in the Oregon mountains, and it’s said the curse followed it. It’s a large home with all the secrets and mysteries often found in homes as old and as large as this one.
Read if you like:
- A locked room mystery
- legendary curses and supernatural notes
- an incredible setting
Overall Rating: (3.83) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
|‘Couldn’t Put It Down’-ness||8|
|World-Building / Use of Setting||10|