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Partners in Crime: Phillip Margolin and Anthony Franze on "The Advocate's Daughter"

Amazon Book Review: The Advocate's DaughterBefore he was the author of seventeen New York Times bestselling novels, Phillip Margolin spent a quarter century as a renowned criminal defense attorney, handling thirty homicide cases and arguing before the United States Supreme Court. Margolin took a short break from the book tour for his latest Amanda Jaffe thriller, Violent Crimes, to interview another lawyer-turned-writer, Anthony Franze, about his new novel, The Advocate's Daughter.

One of the things I enjoy most about my job is the opportunity to read novels by up-and-coming writers. Editors will ask me to consider a book for a "blurb," or national publications will request that I review a novel that is getting early buzz. Each new book represents the chance to find a rising star, someone with a new voice or fresh take. I read a lot of good stuff—they wouldn't ask me if it wasn't on the front list—but every once in a while one of those books strikes a particular chord with me. So it was with Anthony Franze's, The Advocate's Daughter.

At first I thought it was because the book was set in the U.S. Supreme Court, a place I know well, having argued a case there and made it the setting for one of my novels, Supreme Justice. But after I reflected on Franze's book, I realized that it was something else. He didn't just write a "legal thriller," though his latest novel is filled with thrills. He wrote a touching story of family. A book that not only brought me back to my days in the trenches of criminal and appellate courts, but that pulled at my heart, got to the core of what it means to be a parent. It is this nuance that makes The Advocate's Daughter a breakout novel for this fine lawyer-author.

I thought so much of the work that I took a little time out from my own book tour for Violent Crimes to ask Franze a few questions.

Phillip Margolin: Please tell readers a little about the story.

Anthony Franze: It's a domestic thriller set in the insular world of the U.S. Supreme Court. Sean Serrat, a prominent D.C. lawyer, is on the short list to be nominated to the high court. Then his world is shattered when his beloved daughter, Abby, a Georgetown law student, is murdered. Police arrest Abby's boyfriend, a law clerk at the Supreme Court, but the charges aren't adding up. As Sean looks into his daughter's last days, some troubling questions arise. Questions that raise doubts about the boyfriend's guilt—and that put Sean's entire family in peril.

PM: Those "questions" you mention also threaten to expose a damaging secret about Sean, right? Never a good thing for a lawyer on the short list for a Supreme Court nomination.

AF: That's right. Beyond the family aspects of the novel, The Advocate's Daughter is about the price of secrets—both for those who keep them and those they love. I've always been fascinated by stories you hear about prominent people who turn out to have dark secrets from their past. It must be such a burden to carry them around. And then when the secrets come out, as they always do, it's not just the wrongdoers who pay the price. It's their loved ones, their spouses, their kids. So I took a youthful incident—a secret—and made it the force that motivated my protagonist to become one of the most prominent lawyers in the country. And then that same secret surfaces and threatens to cost him everything and everyone he loves.

PM: You practice in the Supreme Court, and I was curious about how the Supreme Court community has reacted to your books. From my appellate work, I know it's an elite and tight-knit group. How have they responded to your fictional use of the highest court in the land?

AF: Luckily, I've had a remarkably warm reception. That was a relief given that many of the fictional lawyers in my books—and even the fictional justices—do some very bad things. But there's been an outpouring of support. For example, a former Solicitor General introduced me at an event promoting my first novel. Judges have sent me nice notes, as have prominent members of the Supreme Court Bar and press corps. I even got a complimentary voice mail from the head of the Supreme Court Historical Society.

PM: What thriller writers inspired you?

AF: Let me start by saying that an answer isn't pandering if it's truthful, right? With that said, your novel, Gone, But Not Forgotten is one of the books that inspired me to write. As for other writers, it's a tough one because my favorites depend on my mood at a given time. When I'm feeling like a great international espionage thriller, there's Terry Hayes, Barry Lancet, Gayle Lynds, and Daniel Silva. If I want to read a witty tough guy, it's Lee Child. If I'm in the mood for twisty suspense, Harlan Coben, Joseph Finder, and Gregg Hurwitz. And if I want psychological drama, Lisa Unger or Gillian Flynn. I could go on.

PM: If you were on a desert island and could have only one book with you, what would it be?

AF: Can I go with Steven Wright's line? I'd bring, How to Build a Boat. My serious choice would be A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Not because it's such a masterpiece, but because of what it meant to me at a particular time in my life.

PM: Ah, now we're getting somewhere. Could you elaborate?

AF: When I was a kid, I lived with just my father, who was in the military, and we moved a lot—from England to Japan to Hawaii to Nebraska, and so on. To give you an idea, I went to four high schools in four years. When you move to a new town in the middle of the summer, it can be hard to make friends. In the Summer of '85, A Separate Peace was my main company. It also re-sparked a love of reading. In David McCullough's biography of John Adams, the author recounts advice Adams's father used to give him: You will never be alone if you have a poet in your pocket. For me, it was a suspense novel in my pocket.

PM: What's something people don't know about you?

AF: I wish my background was as interesting as yours—teaching junior high in the South Bronx, working in the Peace Corps, groundbreaking work on Battered Women's Syndrome, and your storied criminal law practice. Outside my appellate practice, my only claim to well, not fame, was when I was in a hair-metal band in high school and college. To this day, I live in fear that one of the photos of my waist-long hair will resurface.

PM: Last, I get asked this question a lot, so I'll ask you: What's been your best moment as a writer so far?

AF: There have been many, but one of them was when I signed on with Lisa Erbach Vance, my agent, who has a reputation as one of the best in the business, and for good reason. Also, moving from a mid-sized publisher with my first book, to having multiple offers on my sophomore effort with The Advocate's Daughter, and signing with St. Martin's Press.

Another involved a reader. There was a man who was writing an online travel journal as he trekked through China on a humanitarian mission. In some of his entries, he wrote about reading my first book. So, here's this man I'll never meet traveling somewhere I'll probably never go, and my work kept him company on his journey. There was something special about that. Thank you, Phil, for taking the time to interview me. There was something really special about that, too.

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