2009.06.16: June 16, 2009: Headlines: COS - Liberia: Writing - Liberia: Seattlest: Liberia RPCV Phillip Margolin Gives Us All the Chilling Details in his new book "Fugitive"

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Liberia: Peace Corps Liberia : Peace Corps Liberia: Newest Stories: 2009.06.16: June 16, 2009: Headlines: COS - Liberia: Writing - Liberia: Seattlest: Liberia RPCV Phillip Margolin Gives Us All the Chilling Details in his new book "Fugitive"

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Liberia RPCV Phillip Margolin Gives Us All the Chilling Details in his new book "Fugitive"

Liberia RPCV Phillip Margolin Gives Us All the Chilling Details in his new book Fugitive

The descriptions of the fictional African country of Batanga are very similar to the Liberia I lived in for two years while I was in the Peace Corps. It was a lot of fun for me to relive those years by rereading letters I wrote to my parents while I was overseas. I have traveled a lot since my Peace Corps days, but not back to Africa.

Liberia RPCV Phillip Margolin Gives Us All the Chilling Details in his new book "Fugitive"

Phillip Margolin Gives Us All the Chilling Details

Phillip Margolin will be reading from his most recent suspense-filled legal thriller, Fugitive, at 7 p.m., on Wednesday, June 17, at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park.

Margolin was nice enough to share some insight with us on his latest novel, and his life in general. He has been writing legal thrillers since the '70s and quit practicing law in Portland, Oregon, in 1996 to dedicate all of his time to writing, much to the happiness of his many die-hard fans. As a criminal trial lawyer, Margolin represented exactly 30 people throughout the years charged with homicide, including several who were facing the death penalty. He was also the first lawyer in Oregon to use the Battered Women's Syndrome in defense of--you guessed it--a battered woman accused of killing her spouse. The man has seen it all, and explains further on how his years as an attorney have reflected in his stories and given him much material to work with.

Fugitive centers around longtime fan-favorite character Oregon attorney Amanda Jaffe, representing ex-con Charlie Marsh (aka Guru Gabriel Sun. Marsh or Sun), who had been released from prison early for saving a guard during a riot. After being released, he changes his name and publishes a hippie-dippie book, The Light Within, which becomes popular with the ladies, one of them being the wife of a U.S. congressman. The congressman is murdered, Marsh is implicated, and flees the country to live in Batanga, Africa (fictional), where there are no extradition laws and which is ruled by an evil dictator. After a decade of living in Batanga, Marsh sleeps with the dictator's favorite wife and fears a far worse sentencing than he might face in the U.S., so he escapes back home, where Jaffe represents him, tries to keep him off death row, and away from the "shadowy killer who will stop at nothing to keep the truth about a decade-old crime buried forever." Phew, that is one hell of a plot.

We understand that your latest book, Fugitive, includes your reader's favorite heroine, Amanda Jaffe, for a fifth time around. How did you originally come up with Jaffe's character--was she based or drawn off of a real person you had known in your years of practicing law?

[Jaffe] was introduced in Wild Justice (2000), had a cameo role in The Associate (2002), then starred in Ties That Bind (2003), Proof Positive (2006), and now Fugitive. I got the idea for Amanda when I decided to have two parts for Wild Justice set many years apart. I liked the idea of a father-daughter criminal defense team and decided to have Amanda as a brand new attorney trying her first case in part one and a seasoned veteran handling a death penalty case in part two. Amanda isn't based on any real person.

When Amanda Jaffe's character is first introduced in Wild Justice, did you already have plans to include her in further novels?

I saw Wild Justice as a stand-alone, and I'd intentionally stayed away from creating a continuing character because I didn't want to get boxed in and have to only write books with one character. When I wrote The Associate, my next book after Wild Justice, I needed a defense attorney to represent the hero who is charged with murder. I was going to create a character, but I liked Amanda and decide to use her in a few scenes. My next book was Ties That Bind. I had no intention of bringing back the Jaffes when I wrote the outline. Then it occurred to me that they would fit perfectly into the plot. I thought it would be a challenge to see if I could create a continuing character and go forward with Amanda's life, so I put her and Frank [her father] in the book. Now I use them if they are appropriate for the plot, as they were in Proof Positive and Fugitive.

Readers have said that Fugitive is more fantastical than your past novels, though it is just as gripping and suspenseful--did you originally plan for it to turn out that way? How do you believe it differs from your past work?

Fugitive is a little different from my other books because it begins in Africa and has several chapters set there. It also has a little black humor in it because Charlie Marsh is such a rascal.

We see that you spent time working with the Peace Corps in the '60s in West Africa--did your experiences there help you in coming up with the fictional country of Batanga? Have you taken other trips to Africa as well that may have helped form the characters and topography?

The descriptions of the fictional African country of Batanga are very similar to the Liberia I lived in for two years while I was in the Peace Corps. It was a lot of fun for me to relive those years by rereading letters I wrote to my parents while I was overseas. I have traveled a lot since my Peace Corps days, but not back to Africa.

Do you base a lot of your novels around past criminal trials you worked as a lawyer, or characters you may have defended or worked against?

Only one of my books, The Burning Man, was based on one of the thirty homicide cases I handled and it was heavily fictionalized. I have used incidents from my cases to spice up books and war stories other attorneys have told me. Heartstone, my first novel, is based on a famous Oregon murder case in which I was not involved. I don't use real people in my books as characters, although I sometimes use physical descriptions if the person looks interesting.

It looks like you have been in Portland since the early '70s, and that you are originally from New York. Two very different worlds--would you ever consider moving back to New York if given the chance, or is Portland home for good?

I love Portland. My wife and I moved here as soon as I completed law school at New York University and we fell in love with Oregon. My children live here and it is my home. I visit New York occasionally, but I wouldn't move back because most of my friends are here and it is so beautiful.

A lot of your novels plots also take place in Portland and surrounding areas of Oregon. Do you believe it makes for a great setting in suspenseful thrillers, and why?

Oregon does make a great setting for suspense novels. We have the best summers anywhere, but it rains and is gloomy all winter. When I say "It was a dark and stormy night," I'm not lying.

We've noticed that many readers who live in Portland love that you include local shops, or bars and restaurants in the settings. Are the places included usually those that you go to regularly and know well?

I frequently use real places I eat in or visit as settings. It's fun to put in real places. When I read novels set in Portland, I love to read about places I've been. I recently read Close Case by Alafair Burke. I was eating at Papa Haydn's restaurant, a favorite of mine, and the chapter I was reading was set there. I got a big smile when I read that.

So is it true that every single one of your books has been a New York Times bestseller? That's quite an accomplishment.

I've been very lucky. Every one of my fourteen novels has hit the Times bestseller list. I still shake my head about that because I never dreamed I'd ever publish a work of fiction and didn't try until I was in my thirties. The idea that they'd all be bestsellers is still hard for me to grasp.

What do you miss about practicing law? Was it hard to finally retire and write full time, or were you ready? Since you have left practice, I am sure your biggest fans are pleased, considering it looks like you have been busy putting out a novel each year.

I loved my law practice and would still be trying cases if it hadn't been for the book tours. I wrote my first five novels with a full-time law practice and raising two kids, but I was handling death penalty cases and big federal drug conspiracy trials when I hit the big time with my books. The publishers asked me to tour, and I found I was out of state two to three months a year. A lawyer has no business handling a death penalty case part-time, so I decided to wind down my practice and see if I liked writing full time as much as I liked law. When I retired I had practiced 25 years and done everything, including arguing at the U.S. Supreme Court. I love law and I love writing, and it was nice to go from one career I loved to another in my fifties.

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