Back to books

Wild Justice - 2000

-- Nelson DeMille, bestselling author of The Lion's Game
"Wild Justice is what good storytelling is all about. Skillful plotting, good writing, an excellent cast of characters."

-- Michael Palmer, author of The Patient
"Wild Justice is the scariest book I've read since Red Dragon. I couldn't put it down."

-- Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Breathtaking … Pages will turn fast enough to make the perfect breeze for chilling beachside escapists."

-- Library Journal
"A stunner, a chiller, and a tour de force from an author at the top of his form."

-- New Orleans Times-Picayune
"You'll be turning pages and keeping the lights on all the way to the end"

-- San Antonio Express-News
Margolin's lucid prose and knowledge gained as a defense attorney make this a readable, informative and scary tale.

--Chicago Tribune

-- Detroit News
"A pure rush from beginning to end."

Book Description

Seven years ago, Phillip Margolin seized the imagination of thriller readers everywhere with his chilling breakout bestseller, Gone, but Not Forgotten. After five subsequent New York Times bestsellers, Margolin now returns to the haunting terrain of Gone, but Not Forgotten with a mesmerizing tour de force of psychological suspense, an electrifying tale of revenge and retribution that shows a master storyteller at the very peak of his craft.

Thursday: Subject is still combative after four days of applied pain, sleep deprivation and minimal food.

Vice squad detective Bobby Vasquez, for months on the trail of a slippery underworld figure, receives an anonymous tip that directs him to a mountain cabin. He races through the idyllic Oregon woods, expecting to close the book on a long-standing vendetta. What he finds instead opens a Pandora's box of horror that will haunt him to his dying day.

8:10: Subject bound and gagged and placed in upstairs closet at end of hall. Turned out lights in house, drove off, then parked and doubled back. Watched from woods.

Within hours, Vincent Cordoni -- a brilliant surgeon with a history of violence and drug abuse -- is arrested for a heinous crime. Facing a seemingly insurmountable wall of evidence, he turns to Portland's top criminal defense attorney, Frank Jaffe-who, along with his ambitious daughter, Amanda, must put on an inspired defense. Amanda's first taste of criminal defense work is as intoxicating as it is chilling, but it raises moral questions she's loath to address. Is she defending an innocent man? Or is she using her considerable skills to set a monster free? Then Cardoni disappears under bizarre circumstances. Four years later, a second set of murders has begun ....

8:55: Subject exits house, naked and barefoot, armed with kitchen knife. Remarkable strength of character. Breaking her will be a challenge.

Has Cardoni resurfaced to ply his deadly trade anew? Is there a copycat killer? Or has the real killer been someone else all along? The police will do everything they can to stop Cardoni -- but they have to find him first.

Following a twisting trail of clues, including a harrowing diary that clinically records the killer's horrible deeds, Amanda Jaffe and Bobby Vasquez join the hunt-and themselves become targets of the twenty-first century's first genuinely monstrous psychopath.

Back to top

Excerpt from Wild Justice:

Chapter One

A lightning flash illuminated the Learjet that waited on the runway of the private airstrip moments before a thunderclap startled Dr. Clifford Grant. Grant scanned the darkness for signs of life, but there were no other cars in the lot and no one moving on the tarmac. When he checked his watch his hand trembled. It was 11:35. Breach's man was five minutes late. The surgeon stared at the glove compartment. A sip from his flask would steady his nerves, but he knew where that would lead. He had to be thinking clearly when they brought the money.

Large drops fell with increasing speed. Grant turned on his wipers at the same moment a huge fist rapped on his passenger door. The doctor jerked back and stared. For an instant he thought the rain was distorting his vision; but the man glaring at him through the window was really that big, a monster with a massive, shaved skull and a black knee-length leather coat.

"Open the door," the giant commanded, his voice harsh and frightening.

Grant obeyed instantly. A chill wind blew a fine spray into the car.

"Where is it?"

"In the trunk," Grant said, the words catching in his throat as he jerked his thumb backward. The man tossed an attaché case into the car and slammed the door shut. Water beaded the smooth sides of the briefcase and made the brass locks glisten. The money! Grant wondered how much the recipient was going to pay for the heart, if he and his partner were receiving a quarter of a million dollars.

Two rapid thumps brought Grant around. The giant was pounding on the trunk. He had forgotten to pop the release. As Grant reached for the latch another lightning flash lit the view through his rear window'and the cars that had appeared from nowhere. Without thinking, he floored the accelerator and cranked the wheel. The giant dove away with amazing agility as the sedan careened across the asphalt, leaving the smell of burning rubber. Grant was vaguely aware of the screech of metal on metal as he blasted past one of the police cars and took out part of a chain-link fence. Shots were fired, glass shattered and the car tipped briefly on two wheels before righting itself and speeding into the night.

The next thing Clifford Grant remembered clearly was banging frantically on his partner's back door. A light came on, a curtain moved and his partner glared at him in disbelief before opening the door.

"What are you doing here?"

"The police," Grant gasped. "A raid."

"At the airfield?"

"Let me in, for God's sake. I've got to get in."

Grant stumbled inside.

"Is that the money?"

Grant nodded and staggered to a seat at the kitchen table.

"Let me have it."

The doctor pushed the briefcase across the table. It opened with a clatter of latches, revealing stacks of soiled and crumpled hundred-dollar bills bound by rubber bands. The lid slammed shut.

"What happened?"

"Wait. Got to . . . catch my breath."

"Of course. And relax. You're safe now."

Grant hunched over, his head between his knees.

"I didn't make the delivery."


"One of Breach's men put the money on the front seat. The heart was in the trunk. He was about to open it when I saw police cars. I panicked. I ran."

"And the heart is . . . ?"

"Still in the trunk."

"Are you telling me that you stiffed Martin Breach?"

"We'll call him," Grant said. "We'll explain what happened."

A harsh laugh answered him. "Clifford, you don't explain something like this to Breach. Do you understand what you've done?"

"You have nothing to worry about," Grant answered bitterly. "Martin has no idea who you are. I'm the one who has to worry. We'll just have to return the money. We didn't do anything wrong. The police were there."

"You're certain he doesn't know who I am?"

"I never mentioned your name."

Grant's head dropped into his hands and he began to tremble. "He'll come after me. Oh, God."

"You don't know that for sure," his partner answered in a soothing tone. "You're just frightened. Your imagination is running wild."

The shaking grew worse. "I don't know what to do."

Strong fingers kneaded the tense muscles of Grant's neck and shoulders.

"The first thing you've got to do is get hold of yourself."

The hands felt so comforting. It was what Grant needed, the touch and concern of another human being.

"Breach won't bother you, Clifford. Trust me, I'll take care of everything."

Grant looked up hopefully.

"I know some people," the voice assured him calmly.

"People who can talk to Breach?"

"Yes. So relax."

Grant's head fell forward from relief and fatigue. The adrenaline that had powered him through the past hour was wearing off.

"You're still tense. What you need is a drink. Some ice-cold Chivas. What do you say?"

The true extent of Grant's terror could be measured by the fact that he had not even thought of taking a drink since he saw the police through his rear window. Suddenly every cell in his body screamed for alcohol. The fingers lifted; a cupboard door closed; Grant heard the friendly clink of ice bouncing against glass. Then a drink was in his hand. He gulped a quarter of the contents and felt the burn. Grant closed his eyes and raised the cold glass to his feverish forehead.

"There, there," his partner said as a hand slapped smartly against the base of Grant's neck. Grant jerked upright, confused by the sharp sting of the ice pick as it passed through his brain stem with textbook precision.

The doctor's head hit the tabletop with a thud. Grant's partner smiled with satisfaction. Grant had to die. Even thinking about returning a quarter of a million dollars was ridiculous. What to do with the heart, though? The surgeon sighed. The procedure to remove it had been performed flawlessly, but it was all for nothing. Now the organ would have to be cut up, pureed and disposed of as soon as Grant took its place in the trunk.

Behind the Book - Wild Justice


I'm a pretty normal person, which throws a lot of readers who meet me for the first time. I think that's because readers frequently confuse the persona of a writer with what he writes about. Wild Justice, like my first bestseller, Gone, But Not Forgotten , has a twisted villain who commits terrifying crimes. When Gone was published in 1993, it was encased in a creepy black book jacket and did not have an author photo. Many readers told me that they thought my publisher did not include a photo because anyone who could write a book as creepy as Gone had to have something wrong with him. When they saw that I didn't look like Hannibal Lecter they really got spooked. I could see by the expressions on their faces that they were wondering how someone who looks so ordinary could write so realistically about grisly murders and twisted psyches.

Part of the answer lies in the fact that I was a criminal defense attorney for a quarter of a century. In 1996, I stopped practicing law to write full time. About six months after I retired, a prominent Oregon defense attorney called to ask if I wanted to work on a case with him. I explained that I was no longer practicing law. "Boy," he said, "it must feel strange associating with normal people every day." That's when it dawned on me that I had spent the last twenty-five years of my life doing lunch with arsonists, rapists and people who had slaughtered whole families. When you spend that amount of time in prisons and jails talking to people like that they start seeming normal to you.

When I do book signings I like to take questions, and one question I am frequently asked is "Where do you get your ideas?" The answer is that they come from everywhere. Heartstone and The Burning Man were fictionalized accounts of real cases. I wrote The Last Innocent Man to answer the question most frequently posed to criminal defense lawyers: "How can you represent someone if you think they are guilty?" The inspiration for Gone, But Not Forgotten came from a discussion at a dinner party. I truly believe that a criminal defense attorney should represent anyone, no matter who they are or what the charge, but Pam Webb, a good friend, asked me a question that started me wondering if there was a person -- Adolph Hitler, for instance -- who was so horrible and had committed crimes that were so awful that I would refuse to represent them. A year later, that germ of an idea had turned into a novel about a female attorney -- nationally known for taking cases involving issues that are important to women -- who decides to represent a man who may be a horrifying serial killer, someone who dehumanizes women before he kills them.

The idea for Wild Justice popped into my head one day, several years ago, but it took me a while to figure out what to do with it. I imagined a narcotics officer who gets an anonymous tip: a person he has never heard of is supposed to have a large quantity of drugs in his house. But he's in a bind: a policeman can't search a house based on an anonymous tip, unless he can corroborate the tip with other, reliable evidence. When my imagined policeman is unable to do this, he gets frustrated and breaks into the suspect's house to see if he is on a wild goose chase. While searching for drugs, he makes a horrifying discovery and realizes that the suspect is a serial killer. He can't use any of the evidence he has found because he discovered it during an illegal search.

I thought this was a terrific idea for a story, but I couldn't figure out what happened next. I filed the idea away in my "Ideas" file and forgot about it. Two years ago, the other shoe dropped and I figured out the rest of the story. Am I a normal person who gets weird ideas because I spent twenty-five years working with abnormal people? Or am I just weird? My wife and kids think I'm pretty normal, but who knows -- anyway, I don't really care, as long as the ideas keep coming.

-- Phillip Margolin

Back to top

Connect with Phillip Margolin:  Twitter Facebook