Murder at Black Oaks: A Robin Lockwood Novel (Robin Lockwood, 6)
“This skillfully written and well-polished ‘new classic’ mystery is a perfect winter read, ideal for an armchair journey that’s a page-turner without forcing you to check the locks on the windows and doors.”
It’s not likely that you’ll find a new Agatha Christie mystery to read—but Phillip Margolin makes up for that with his sixth Robin Lockwood novel, Murder at Black Oaks. In fact, the author declares at the opening that this highly enjoyable and suspenseful tale is an homage to the Golden Age of mysteries, with “an impossible murder, a haunted mansion, secret passages, a werewolf curse.” And all this comes with the adroit and intelligent Robin Lockwood, a prominent defense attorney with finely honed skills that apply to accused murderers.
Called to Black Oaks, a monstrous rural manor that’s become a memorial to both death and English history, Robin’s warned by her staff that a werewolf curse could be involved. She’s a natural skeptic. But what crimes could be entangled with the dark myth?
The man summoning her out of her urban comfort zone of Portland, OR, to the isolation of Solitude Mountain, has also been a district attorney. But for 30 years, Frank Melville’s suffered under the knowledge that his skills placed an innocent man onto Death Row. Burdened with the actual murderer’s confession but unable to act on it because of client confidentiality, he’s retreated from public life and suffered both the death of his wife and debilitating injuries that keep him in a wheelchair.
His request to Robin Lockwood comes from learning that the actual criminal is now dead. Can Robin find a legal way for Melville to finally reveal the truth, and perhaps get Jose Alvarez—no longer a promising young man, but a bitter one trapped in prison—justice at last? Even this question roots in tragedy and suspicion, as the fragile and aging man explains:
“There is a curse on anyone who lives in Black Oaks, and God visited that curse on me when he took my Katherine away and left me like this. To atone for letting Jose Alvarez rot in prison while I knew he was innocent. I’ve tried to save other innocent defendants, but even my few victories haven’t brought me peace. . . . I want you to do what I can’t. I want you to save Jose’s life.”
Lockwood and her team may be up to that part of the assignment. But when murder and added threats arrive at the mansion, in the midst of a storm that traps Robin there without phone or drivable road, surrounded by people whose motives and opportunities mesh with the new death, Robin’s in personal danger.
The moment the storm cuts off the roadway, of course, Agatha Christie’s country-house murder mysteries echo into this one. Margolin’s also aiming to honor Ellery Queen and John Dickson Carr in his plot, and fans of these early mysteries can ease contentedly into harness, knowing the kinds of twists that must like ahead and confident that Robin will find the right allies to bring her—and any other “good guys” on the scene—to a relieved resolution of crime past and present.
This skillfully written and well-polished “new classic” mystery is a perfect winter read, ideal for an armchair journey that’s a page-turner without forcing you to check the locks on the windows and doors. No need to have read others in this series beforehand—Margolin’s neat brushing in of details gives plenty of grounding. But of course, you may want to collect the entire series, to get you through the rest of the darker season ahead.