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Murder at Black Oaks

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Readers who are following The Robin Lockwood series by bestselling author Phillip Margolin will welcome the 6th installment, Murder at Black Oaks . Robin is asked to meet a retired District Attorney, Francis Melville at his manor in the mountains of Oregon to help him overturn a case where he wrongfully convicted a young man and essentially ruined his life. The manor has a long interesting history of strange happenings, and there is a spooky ambience as Robin interacts with Mr. Melville. During Robin’s visit, Melville is murdered, and Robin must keep herself safe while trying to solve the murder.

Phillip Margolin is a master of the legal thriller. This novel is well-organized and flows with dozens of twists and turns. Robin is a likeable and relatable protagonist, and it is easy to imagine that she is a real person similar to someone we all know. She has problems and has gone through some horrible life experiences, including seeing her fiancé murdered. Robin is also an excellent attorney, and her skills are the catalyst to solving the murder and keeping herself and the other supporting characters alive. 

Margolin does a good job of capturing an almost gothic ambiance, giving the novel a bit of darkness. It adds to the suspense that builds during the entire novel. This may not be the best of the Robin Lockwood novels, but it is a good read and Lockwood fans will enjoy it. 

Special thanks to NetGalley for supplying a review copy of this book.
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Murder at Black Oaks is really two plots locked haphazardly together in one book.

First, there is Frank, a former prosecutor who discovers the man he sent to prison for life, Jose, is innocent. Unfortunately, his evidence cannot be used in court, so he uses his considerable wealth to get the man released with the help of his own attorney, Robin. He invites Robin, Jose, and a group of other people to his mansion. Frank is killed. Jose is suspected. Robin tries to find the killer. This part was terrific. I liked the whole Agatha Christie vibe of the “impossible” murder scene.

Unfortunately, the plot veered off quickly into the weeds with an escaped mental patient, an ancient curse, and a long-ago murder. It felt like it was added for length rather than to enhance the story. Finally, there was a rather quick resolution to the original plot.

I usually look forward to this author’s books, but Murder at Black Oaks was a disappointment. A swing and a miss at a Christiesque tale. 3 stars.

Thanks to Minotaur Books and NetGalley for a digital review copy of the book.
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It has been a long time since I have read a Margolin book.  I enjoyed the breeziness of this mystery.  It was light and an easy read.  However, I thought the author spread himself too thin and tried to cover too many cases in the book.  There were several mysteries in this but I didn’t feel like I could really get entrenched in any of them because the knowledge and character development were fairly shallow.  Additionally the author broke a rule from my perspective, he used a fictitious book to call out a real former President and his political policies.  I don’t want to read the author’s crossover into the real world in a fictitious book whether I agree with his perspective or not.  Overall, it was still a good read.
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Robin Lockwood is back! The hard hitting attorney/former MMA fighter has a new case. She takes on an "innocence project", hoping to free a man who had been convicted of murder. As she prepares to defend her client, someone else is murdered. This book gave me Clue vibes. I was kept guessing on who the murderer was. . There were multiple interesting characters and plenty of twists. This fast paced story was a good sequel in the Abby Lockwood series.
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An unusual mix of legal thriller and Golden Age atmosphere…

I hadn’t read any books by Phillip Margolin before receiving a review copy of Murder at Black Oaks, and I was surprised to find that he is the author of several mystery series, including this one, which features Robin Lockwood as the protagonist.   But my lack of familiarity didn’t hamper my enjoyment of Margolin’s somewhat unusual combination of a Golden Age mystery with a modern legal thriller.   

First off, when thinking of a legal thriller, one usually isn’t expecting an isolated house in the country, with a hospital for the criminally insane nearby, a good dose of nasty weather, and no cell phone service.   And one definitely isn’t expecting rumors of werewolves and curses.  But that’s what Margolin dishes up, all wrapped around the main story of a young man, Jose Alvarez, who was wrongfully convicted of the murder of his college girlfriend.  And in what turns out to be almost two separate stories, the lead prosecutor in that trial, Frank Melville, finds out later that Jose is innocent, but can’t act on his knowledge, since this would violate the requirements of attorney-client privilege.  So, years later, he hires Robin to figure out how to exonerate Jose, which she capably – and legally - does.   But, then Frank himself is murdered…   

It can sometimes be difficult to come into a series several books in.   And I occasionally did feel as if I were missing a few pieces of the story, especially around the rather recent death of Robin’s fiancé.    But those bits weren’t central to the current tale, and overall, Margolin does a good job of filling in the necessary background without sounding as if he’s lecturing his readers.   And I also occasionally felt that the mixing of the creepy atmosphere with the more modern legal case was a bit forced.   But overall, Murder at Black Oaks pulled me in and kept me reading as I tried to figure out whodunnit.   Which I wasn’t able to do until nearly at the end – and that’s what a mystery should do.    

Please keep in mind that I try to fight star-flation a little bit, and so for me, a four-star review is a solid recommendation to read this book.   And finally, my thanks to Minotaur Books and NetGalley for the review copy!
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This book is an awesome legal thriller. I give it 3 1/2 stars.  I read it as a stand alone novel since I did not read any of the the other Robin Lockwood books.  Frank Melville a brilliant attorney who put Jose Alvarez on death row for the murder of his college sweetheart.  There was an eye witness and case closed.  Down the road Frank comes face to face with the real killer and his whole life turns around.  Because of the client attorney confidentiality, there is nothing he can do.  After an accident leaves his wife dead and him confined to a wheelchair, Frank is on a mission to set death row prisoners free if there is the slightest bit of evidence that they were not guilty.  He hires Robin Lockwood, another brilliant attorney to help him free Jose Alvarez.  Then the story sort of takes a turn and goes into the house that is "haunted" by a curse of the werewolves.   It is Frank's house now that his wife passed and he lives there with his daughter and the help.  Of course it gets wild and creepy in the house with guests there to celebrate Jose and weird things happen.  This book reminded me of an Agatha Christy novel.  It did keep my attention and I would recommend it.  Thanks to #netgalley, #minotaurbooks for an ARC of this book
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“We’ve got a spooky mansion, an escaped madman, and a locked-room mystery.”

So says the detective investigating the Murder at Black Oaks, a creepy reproduction of an English mansion full of death and Devil worship. The remote manor house is located at the top of Solitude Mountain and is where retired attorney Frank Melville asks to meet attorney Robin Lockwood. He has lived in the house, his late wife’s passion, tended by his daughter since the accident that left him paralyzed. He tells her a chilling story. Early in his career, he prosecuted a Jose Alvarez, accused of killing his college girlfriend. The young man was convicted and sentenced to death. Then Frank defended the star witness from that case on a rape charge. After that man was found innocent, he told Frank he murdered that college girl and lied under oath. Bound by attorney/client privilege, Frank waits until the man dies and asks Robin to help free Jose. She is successful and then brings him to Black Oaks for a celebration dinner. The celebration ends with murder and a violent storm. Robin knows that one or more of the guests is a killer and another may have escaped from a nearby asylum. And only a few guests are the people they pretend to be.

Murder at Black Oaks is another fast-paced thriller in the Robin Lockwood series by Phillip Margolin. This is a quick, satisfying read combining strong, well-described characters with a macabre location and a touch of horror. 5 stars.

Thank you to NetGalley, St. Martin's Press and Phillip Margolin for this ARC.
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Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced digital copy of this book in exchange for a review.

Well, it was OK. 

Robin Lockwood is a busy and capable attorney with an uncanny ability to "see" what happens. The problem is, her internal dialog is repetitive and not very believable. I am not sure I could accurately count the number of times she "recalled" something in a conversation or a dream that was "important" but she would have to "think about it" before knowing what it was. That works once, maybe twice, but over and over? This author is too talented to keep relying on the same schtick over and over.

When Robin is called to the creepy, out of the way, dangerously difficult to reach home of retired attorney Francis Melville, she has no idea why he wants to see her. He soon explains that a murder who he convicted successfully 30 years ago is actually innocent and he has know this fact for 20+ years. But only now can he do anything about it. He lays out the problem and, with a lot of help from her staff, she gets the convict freed.

Then she, the ex-convict, and her lead investigator are asked to return to the weird, possibly cursed house because the retired attorney has another case for them to investigate. When Melville is murdered in an impossible locked elevator scenario, everything goes sideways. But Robin figures it all out in the end and many people see justice as a result.

If you are a fan of Agatha Christie (which I am) and her numerous locked room mysteries, you might enjoy this, but I wasn't much of a fan.
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Murder at Black Oaks by Phillip Margolin is a light-read, legal thriller. The plot twists move the story from a legal thriller to a mystery, taking the reader along for an exciting ride. While this is part of the Lockwood series but can easily be read as a stand-alone. Overall, another great addition to the series.
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*3-3.5 stars. A fast-paced and entertaining read set in Oregon in an eerie, isolated mansion. Attorney Robin Lockwood is asked by former prosecutor Frank Maxwell to help find a way to overturn a wrongful conviction of a man held on death row for the past thirty years. Maxwell had learned the truth in the case years ago from the actual murderer but was prevented from revealing the truth due to the constraints of attorney-client privilege. 

Maxwell is wheelchair-bound since the accident that killed his beloved wife, Katherine. Together they had built their home, Black Oaks, on top of Solitude mountain; it is an exact replica of an ancient English mansion with a haunted past--think werewolves, bloody deaths and hints of curses. 

After the successful conclusion of the case, Maxwell invites Robin, her investigator Ken, and Jose Alvarez, the released prisoner, to his mansion to celebrate. Among those gathered there are Frank's daughter Nelly, her fiancee Trent, his assistant Sheila and Corey Rockwell, a former film star whose career is waning. No one could have predicted a powerful storm and the resulting mudslide cutting them off from the outside world...and locking them in the spooky mansion with a murderer! 

This story has shades of AgathaChristie's And Then There Were None. Margolin says he wanted to write a homage to his favorite Golden Age mystery writers such as 
Christie and Ellery Queen and he does succeed in doing that pretty well with the eerie setting, impossible crime and intriguing cast of characters he has created here. 

I received an arc of this new mystery from the author and publisher via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and ten opinions expressed are my own.
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"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."

Isolation, murder, and a curse? Oh yes!
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This is my second book in the series.  I looked back at my first review to remind myself and so I thought I was ready for this book.  It went fast.  Really fast.  And there were so many different characters and crimes that I often had to go back and remind myself who was who.  At times, it was even pretty corny.  There were some law cliches and some obvious oversites by characters and a bit over use of some phrases, too.

I’m asking myself if the last book was this fast-paced, crowded, and cheesy.  I don’t remember.  Still, I liked it.  Sitting here trying to forget about my autumn cold, it was a quick morning read that just never stopped long enough for me to care about the things I’m thinking now.  That has to say something.  I’ll keep readin this series.
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I'm not sure what Margolin was thinking when he conceived this latest in the legal series featuring Robin Lockwood but the plot wanders around multiple tropes to an interesting conclusions. Former DA Francis Hardy persuades Robin to help him free Jose Alvarez who was wrongly convicted of killing his girlfriend.  Easy enough (not really) but Jose is quite bitter so the celebration Hardy envisions when he invites him and others to his secluded mansion doesn't quite work.  And then Hardy, who uses a wheelchair, is murdered and this evolves into a locked room mystery.  Oh and there's a curse at the mansion.  I might have rolled my eyes a few times while reading this but I did keep turning the pages.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. Fine as a standalone and I'm looking forward to the next one.
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This is the sixth in the attorney Robin Lockwood series.  It is the third I have read. It would work well as a standalone. 

In 1990, district attorney Francis Melville successfully prosecutes Jose Alvarez for a murder and Alvarez is sentenced to death. A few years later, as the result of a privileged attorney-client communique, Melville learns who the real  killer is.  After the death of the guilty party, Melville asks Portland Oregon’s Robin Lockwood to help exonerate Alvarez.  All meetings with Melville take place at his desolate home, Black Oaks.  A replica of a 17th century English estate, it comes with a long sordid history and a curse. 

I have always liked Margolin’s books, and this one is no exception although it is somewhat different in that it includes a bit of spookiness and monsters.  As I read it, I  was reminded of  Agatha Christie’s stories.  Margolin acknowledged that attribution when a character said that they felt they were in an Agatha Christie novel. There were also mentions of werewolves and a hint of Frankenstein!  What fun!  

This was a quick, enjoyable read.  There are parallel stories to the main plot, something that seems to be a feature of the Lockwood series.  The one point that bothered me, though, was that I thought there was a flawed premise behind the unveiling of the motive of a killer in one of the side stories.  I don’t want to say any more about that lest I reveal a spoiler. 

Note:This was an ARC.  In some descriptions of the book, Melville has a different name (Hardy).
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Thank you to NetGalley and Minotaur books for the ARC of this book.

I'm really disappointed to say that I really did not like this book. The premise attracted me to this story but I quickly realized that it wasn't really going anywhere. 

Much of the writing had, for lack of a better term, a "cheesy" feel to it. Just a few pages in, one of the characters makes a completely ridiculously worded confession, complete with explaining to an attorney what attorney-client privilege is. It felt insulting to my intelligence. The rest of the book didn't salvage this first impression, sadly.

I've heard the author's other books are better. I'll give those a try.
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In 1990, Deputy district attorney, Frank Melville represented Jose Alvarez in an aggravated murder case.  Jose was found guilty and sentenced to death.  Frank is sick about the case as his instincts tell him Jose is innocent, but he’s done all he can for him.  When he finds out his instincts were right, his hands are tied as the confession of guilt comes from another client.  Frank must abide by the attorney client privilege or be disbarred.  Years later, Frank, no longer an attorney, decides to set things right and hires Robin Lockwood to make a case for Jose’s innocence and set him free.  At a celebration weekend held at the creepy mansion of Black Oaks, owned by Melville, Melville is found dead in the homes elevator.  The guest list has more than one person that had reason to kill Melville, but in the end the culprit just might surprise you.  Margolin gives us a fun read/listen with this locked room mystery.  Entertaining at the time, but not one that will stay with you for long.  Thank you to Minotaur Books, Macmillan Audio and NetGalley for an ARC and ALC of this book.
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Tingling with Gothic atmosphere, Murder at Black Oaks is the sixth in the Robin Lockwood series and is a treasure trove of interesting elements including righting wrongs, a curse and murder.  Sins cast long shadows and the present isn't much better.

Attorney Robin Lockwood embarks on a literal and metaphorical journey when she agrees to meet former attorney Francis Melville at his isolated Gothic mansion Black Oaks even he doesn't like to discuss the case which ruined his career and enveloped him with guilt.  She learns about Jose Alvarez who had been convicted of murder and in prison.  Melville needs help overturning the conviction as he hides a dreadful secret, knowledge that weighs heavily.  Robin meets with stunned Alvarez and murder occurs shortly after.  

The premise is exciting and enticing but the bits and pieces did not flow or come together well.  Parts seemed stilted and choppy and my mind wandered.  The book is a nod to the author's favourite writers including Agatha Christie but I see very little correlation with Christie's writing.  It is still fascinating and worth reading but did not fully capture or convince me.

My sincere thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for providing me with an early digital copy of this book.
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I really wanted to like this book, as the premise (a locked room murder) in a gothic setting intrigued me. Unfortunately, the book did not live up to the hopes of the premise.

Overall, the writing throughout was stiff and formal, which kept me at a distance from the story. In particular, the dialogue carried that formality, making the characters read as very flat and all the same. I found as I moved through the story that I had no true sense of any of the characters, which kept me from caring when murders occurred, and made it difficult to see motives for any of them.

Another issue for me was that the story was trying to be too many things. This is the 6th book in a series. While I have not read the previous books, I assume they follow the former MMA fighter turned lawyer at the heart of this novel. This book begins with a legal drama, then shifts to a gothic story with suggested supernatural elements, then turns to a locked room murder. This elements were not woven together well, which made the overall story feel very disjointed.
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I'm not sure exactly how to review this book. To start with, it feels a bit that I received the wrong ARC as there were still editor's notes within the manuscript. Only a couple, but enough to be weird. Add to that the fact that parts of the book seemed oddly sparce, as if they still needed fleshing out.

But the worst part was the lack of cohesion between the three story lines. It felt like reading three short stories that somehow got tied into one larger story without any real character development to hold the bits together. I'm a bit sad as there was the potential in there for a really good story, but because it was so short at only 213 pages, it lacked room to develop those sub-plots well. Or to tell which one was supposed to be the sub-plot and which was the main storyline.
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In 1990, Frank Merrill had a great reputation for putting criminals behind bars when he worked in Oregon's DA's office. Two years later, still bothered by his part in a murder trial in which Jose Alvarez was convicted and sentenced to death, Frank Merrill leaves the DA's office to work with his best friend, Larry Trent, primarily handling personal injury cases, and occassionally a criminal case.

In 1997, a witness for the prosecution from the Alvarez case comes to Frank asking to be represented in a criminal matter. After his case is won, the client admits to Merrill that he was responsible for the rape that he was just cleared of, as well as several others, and the murder Alvarez was convicted of, laughing that Merrill can do nothing due to attorney/client privilege. Merrill is so disgusted, that he abruptly retires soon afterwards and becomes active in researching cases where the person convicted might be innocent. Within weeks of retirement, Merrill is in a bad car accident that kills his wife, and leaves him paralyzed.

Current day, Merrill requests that Robin Lockwood, a criminal attorney, come to his home, Black Oaks, to discuss a legal matter. He wants her help in getting Jose Alvarez's murder conviction overturned. Black Oaks is an exact replica of a remote and infamous 1628 English manor which has a history of murder and is felt to be cursed. Though Merrill is scared by the background of the original manor, he won't allow any changes to the home to honor his wife's wishes.

Robin and her associates are able to get Alvarez's conviction overturned, and Merrill invites them all back to Black Oaks for a celebration. What follows is an atmospheric mystery with multiple murders, plenty of characters with both opportuinities and motives, schemes, and twists. With Halloween aroung the bend, this is the perfect time to enjoy this entertaining read!

My sincere appreciation to Minotaur Books for allowing me to read a DRC of this novel vial NetGalley. Publication is scheduled for 11/15/22. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and are freely given.
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