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The Associate - 2002

Oregonian
"Multiple plot twists will keep you turning the pages."

Publishers Weekly (boxed review)
"Undeniably entertaining and enjoyable."

Booklist
"A classic legal thriller … intelligent, stylishly written, and exciting. … [A] fine novel."

Book Description

A poster boy for the American Dream, former blue collar boy turned high-powered lawyer Daniel Ames is on easy street as an associate at Reed, Briggs, Portland's most prestigious law firm.

Until one man...and one case...changes everything.

When a charismatic lawyer sues the firm's biggest client, a pharmaceutical company, for manufacturing a drug that causes unspeakable birth defects, Daniel believes the case has no merit. But when information implicating company malfeasance surfaces, the intrepid lawyer doggedly scrambles to find the truth--an investigation that leads him into a vortex of greed, corruption, deceit, and murder. Suddenly caught on the wrong side of the law and in the crosshairs of a powerful enemy, Daniel must unmask an evil conspiracy that wants to bury a deadly secret...and Daniel with it.

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Excerpt from The Associate:

Chapter One

The headlight beams of Dr. Sergey Kaidanov's battered SAAB bounced off a stand of Douglas firs then came to rest on the unpainted wall of a one-story, cinderblock building buried in the woods several miles from downtown Portland. As soon as Kaidanov unlocked the front door of the building the rhesus monkeys started making that half-cooing, half-barking sound that set his nerves on edge. The volume of noise increased when Kaidanov flipped on the lights.

Most of the monkeys were housed in two rooms at the back of the building. Kaidanov walked down a narrow hall and stood in front of a thick metal door that sealed off one of the rooms. He slid back a metal sheet and studied the animals through the window it concealed. There were sixteen rhesus monkeys in each room. Each monkey was in its own steel mesh cage. The cages were stacked two high and two across on a flatcar with rollers. Kaidanov hated everything about the monkeys -- their sour, unwashed smell, the noises they made, the unnerving way they followed his every move.

As soon as Kaidanov's face was framed in the window, the monkey two from the door in the top cage leaped toward him and stared him down. Its fur was brownish gray and it gripped the mesh with hands containing opposable thumbs on both arms and legs. This was the dominant monkey in the room and it had established its dominance within three weeks even though there was no way it could get at the others.

Rhesus monkeys were very aggressive, very nervous, and always alert. It was bad etiquette to look one in the eye, but Kaidanov did it just to show the little bastard who was the boss. The monkey didn't blink. It stretched its doglike muzzle through the mesh as far as it could, baring a set of vicious canines. At two feet tall and forty pounds, the monkey didn't look like it could do much damage to a one-hundred-and-ninety-pound, five-foot-eight male human, but it was much stronger than it looked.

Kaidanov checked his watch. it was three in the morning. He couldn't imagine what was so important that he had to meet here at this hour, but the person whose call had dragged him from a deep sleep paid Kaidanov to do as he was told, no questions asked.

Kaidanov needed caffeine. He was about to go to his office to brew a pot of coffee when he noticed that the padlock on the dominant monkey's cage was open. He must have forgotten to close it after the last feeding. The scientist started to open the door but stopped when he remembered that the key to the monkey rooms was in his office.

Kaidanov returned to the front of the building. His office was twelve by fifteen and stuffed with lab equipment. A small desk on casters stood just inside the door. it was covered by a phone book, articles from research journals, and printouts of contractions that the monkeys experienced during pregnancy. Behind the table was a cheap office chair. Along the walls were metal filing cabinets, a sink, and a paper towel dispenser. Kaidanov walked around the desk. The coffeepot was sitting on a table alongside a centrifuge, scales, a rack of test rubes, and a Pokémon mug filled with Magic Markers, pens, and pencils. Above the table was a television screen attached to a security camera that showed the front of the building.

The pot of coffee was almost brewed when Kaidanov heard a car pull up and a door slam. On the television a figure in a hooded windbreaker ran toward the lab. Kaidanov left his office and opened the front door. The scientist peered at the hooded face and saw two cold eyes staring at him through the slits in a ski mask. Before he could speak, a gun butt struck his forehead, blinding him with pain. Kaidanov collapsed to the floor. The muzzle of a gun ground into his neck.

"Move," a muffled voice commanded. He scrambled to his knees and a booted foot shoved him forward. The pain in his face brought tears to his eyes as he crawled the short distance to his office.

"The keys to the monkey rooms."

Kaidanov pointed toward a hook on the wall. Seconds later a blow to the back of his head knocked him unconscious.

Kaidanov had no idea how long he had been out. The first thing he heard when he came to were the hysterical shrieks of terrified monkeys and the sound of cages crashing together. The scientist felt like a nail had been driven into his skull, but he managed to struggle into a sitting position. Around him filing cabinets had been opened and overturned. The floor was littered with gasoline-drenched paper, but that was not the only object doused in gasoline -- his clothing, face, and hands reeked of it. Then the acrid smell of smoke assailed his nostrils and his stomach turned when he saw the shadow of flames dancing on the wall outside his office.

Fear dragged Kaidanov to his knees just as his assailant reentered the office holding the gun and a five-gallon can of gas. Kaidanov scurried back against the wall, much the way the more docile monkeys skittered to the back of their cages whenever he entered the monkey room. The gas can hit the desk with a metallic thud and Kaidanov's assailant pulled out a lighter. Kaidanov tried to speak, but terror made him mute. Just as the lid of the lighter flipped open, an insane shriek issued from the doorway. An apparition, engulfed in flame, eyes wide with panic and pain, filled the entrance to the office. The dominant monkey, Kaidanov thought. It had been able to force open its cage door because Kaidanov had forgotten to secure the padlock.

From THE ASSOCIATE. Copyright © 2001 by Phillip Margolin. HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

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Behind the Book - The Associate

WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR The Associate COME FROM?

One of the questions that I am most frequently asked on my book tours is, "Where did the idea for your book come from?" The idea for The Associate came from three unrelated events. In 1997, I was asked to be part of a month-long promotion of thrillers in The Netherlands. As part of this promotion, I was required to write a novella that would be published only in Holland. The story I wrote was based on the disappearance of a court reporter in Oregon in the late 1970s in a murder case that I was handling. I liked the novella and I toyed with the idea of expanding it into a full-length novel, but I was always side-tracked by the other books on which I was working.

Some time after I wrote the novella, my wife, Doreen, and I were in an art gallery in New York looking at a photo exhibition. Doreen got the idea for a story in which a person viewing a photo exhibition sees something in one of the photographs that is truly shocking. (I am being vague on purpose here because I don't want to spoil one of the surprises in The Associate ).

I was a criminal defense lawyer for 25 years. One of the cases I argued in the Oregon Supreme Court challenged the use of hair identification evidence to connect a defendant to a crime scene. (This was before DNA tests.) When I undertook the appeal, I assumed that there must be a lot of scientific validity to conclusions you could draw from hair found at a murder scene because the FBI and other police agencies testified about their ability to connect hair to a specific individual.

After researching the topic, I got interested in the idea of "junk science"; that interest was heightened by a widely publicized product liability lawsuit in which claims were made that leaks from silicone breast implants were causing serious illnesses in women. When the manufacturers agreed to a billion dollar class action settlement I assumed that there must be validity to the plaintiffs' claims. Then I began reading about the results of scientific studies - which uniformly showed that there was no connection between the leakage from the breast implants and the specific types of injuries the women were claiming. I was shocked that a major corporation like Dow Corning would settle cases for huge sums of money when there was no factual basis for the claims.

This got me thinking about how science could be misused in a major product liability case. And at some point these three separate ideas came together to form one complete novel. It is not unusual for my mind to work this way. I will frequently get an idea for a book that I'm unable to develop into a complete novel - at least not right away. Later I'll get another idea for another book that I'm similarly unable to develop into a complete novel. At some point it will dawn on me that I might find a way to put the two ideas together to make a good book.

The Associate starts with an Arizona lawyer being shocked by something he sees in a photograph in a Soho art gallery. The bulk of the book centers on Daniel Ames, a young associate in a huge law firm who is part of a team defending a pharmaceutical company against charges that it is manufacturing a pregnancy drug that causes birth defects. Daniel uncovers information about the validity of the lawsuit that makes him the target of a killer. The back story that eventually leads to the discovery of the identity of the person behind this conspiracy is in large part the novella I wrote for my Dutch audience.

I hope you enjoy The Associate !

- Phillip Margolin

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