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The Bible, the Law, and a Person’s Right to Choose

The Big Thrill Interviews USA Today Bestselling Author Robert Rotstein

By Jonathan Davidson

Book Cover: THE OUT OF TOWN LAWYERThey say that religion and politics make for impolite conversation.

Thankfully, Robert Rotstein isn’t polite. In THE OUT-OF-TOWN LAWYER, he takes readers to an abandoned cabin in rural Alabama, and a courthouse ruled by an old-school judge, where religion and politics lead to life or death, freedom or captivity.

Attorney Elvis Henderson takes a call from his reclusive boss, and she assigns him to a case in his hometown. Destiny Grace Harper has been accused of murdering her infant twins for refusing a minimally invasive medical procedure on religious grounds. The trial starts in four-and-a-half weeks.

Elvis refuses. He fled home at 18 with vengeful forces snapping at his heels. And representing a mother whose convictions go against everything he believes isn’t appetizing.

But the idea of the government murdering a young woman for exercising choice over her body—that’s something he can’t abide.

Elvis returns home, and things don’t go well. He is a man of the world; Destiny Grace is a child of God (and not a very cooperative child either). The district attorney takes this case personally, and she’s out for the death penalty. The judge, known around the courthouse as “Judge Lethal Injection,” doesn’t like Elvis’s Willie Nelson braid, red suspenders, and the fact that he lives in a van. The ghosts that chased Elvis out of town decades ago still want blood.

Yet, these are just the beginning sorrows. As Elvis pieces together what really happened, he uncovers deadly secrets better left buried, and the heart-wrenching choices that Destiny Grace and those who helped her were forced to make.

To save her life, and his own, he must rely on his instincts and every trick he’s learned during his long and unusual career.

If you love legal thrillers, you’ll relish THE OUT-OF-TOWN LAWYER. As an attorney, Rotstein knows the law and wields that knowledge to great effect. The courtroom scenes crackle with tension and clever legal maneuvering. Each side presents passionate arguments that will make you think no matter which side of the issues you are on.

But more importantly, Rotstein knows how to write characters that dramatize black-and-white law in a world of imperfect human beings.

Robert Rotstein

Each character is a larger-than-life archetype designed to argue a point and create maximum conflict with the rest of the cast, while at the same time feeling vividly and authentically human. Elvis shines as a scrappy yet lovable protagonist. He isn’t afraid of legal fights or fistfights, and his cynical humor—combined with a ravenous hunger for justice—makes him the perfect point of view through which to experience this story.

Even with rich characterization and a complex story, there are no wasted words. Rotstein’s mastery of the thriller genre and sentence-level prose forms a riptide of momentum that accelerates through many surprising revelations to a conclusion that’s both surprising and deeply satisfying.

The Big Thrill caught up with Rotstein and interviewed him about this book.

Novels often take months or years to complete. What about this story inspired you to expel that kind of enormous effort to bring it to life?

My wife, author Daco Auffenorde (who’s also an attorney), referred me to an article in The Alabama Lawyer discussing cases where the government tried to force pregnant women to undergo medical procedures in an effort to treat unborn babies at risk. Daco thought the topic would make for a great legal thriller. At the same time, I’ve always been a fan of the lone-wolf who travels around doing justice—Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, or in days gone by, The Lone Ranger. The bar journal article, coupled with my fascination with the “knight errant,” inspired THE OUT-OF-TOWN LAWYER.

Your protagonist, Elvis Henderson, is quite a character. He lives in a van, wears a long braid, and he’s not afraid to ruffle feathers. Is he the uninhibited Robert Rotstein?

Well, I am a child of the late-sixties, early-70s, so there’s always that lingering, youthful desire to hit the road and see where it takes you! Seriously, I go back to the knight errant concept—not only the Lone Ranger of my youth, but also a wonderful old-TV character, Paladin, the protagonist in a probably oft-forgotten classic Have Gun Will Travel—tough, sometimes suave, but always concerned with doing justice. As for as living in a van? These days, my lower back wouldn’t cooperate!

The district attorney quotes the Bible while seeking the death penalty. Your protagonist quotes from the Bible to save the defendant’s life. Your characters quote the Bible to support forced medical intervention, as well as God’s power to heal. How have your personal experiences with religion shaped these story elements?

I would say that the novel reflects my interest in the Bible as literature and poetry—and as a basis of accord and disagreement. In THE OUT-OF-TOWN LAWYER, characters with similar upbringings and religious beliefs often vehemently disagree on what those beliefs mean for real-life issues—in this case, whether a pregnant woman’s religious beliefs justified her refusal to have a procedure that would have saved the lives of her seriously ill, unborn twins. However, in another instance in the novel, characters from highly diverse religious backgrounds vehemently agree about a thorny issue.

Back to the Bible as literature—the quotations, because of their poetic force, often have a wonderful ambiguity. And, in the novel, the quotations sometimes serve as clues that lead to the truth.

What is your favorite part of the writing process?

Believe it or not, I enjoy the editing process most. For one thing, it means that a first draft is complete—an accomplishment for any writer. More than that, it means that the manuscript might soon have readers—albeit beta readers and editors. My experience as a practicing attorney has taught me to appreciate others’ input in the writing process—bosses, colleagues, clients. So, I welcome the chance to execute good notes on the story. Sometimes I go overboard—I’ve been told that I’ll rewrite five chapters when a beta reader merely suggested that I add a comma.

Will we get to journey with Elvis Henderson through future trials?

I have some ideas for more Elvis stories, but nothing definite yet.

How did you become a writer? Did it come easy? And, all humility aside, what is the x-factor that makes you an excellent novelist?

As a kid, I enjoyed writing stories and poetry, but then life and job and family obligations took over. Whenever I thought about writing seriously, I hesitated. As an attorney, I’ve defended many cases in which people believe they’ve had a movie script or a novel stolen—and that their work was going to be the next great thing. Neither belief was close to being true. I think I hesitated to write because I didn’t want to be a person who fooled himself into thinking he had talent. Then I started writing some chapters of a novel and showed it to a former expert witness in a copyright case—who happened to be a successful author and prominent writing teacher. He told me I had some talent and that I should keep going.

The encouragement was what I needed. After a few false starts, I resolved to treat my novel as if it were a legal brief: I’d give myself a deadline, write a not-so-good first draft, and then fix it during the editing process and get it done. That approach demystified the writing process and allowed me to finish my first novel. As to why my novels have gotten published? Probably because I have a weird and vivid imagination.

What’s your favorite sentence in the novel? Why?

“Billboards can feed you, fill your tank, get you drunk, save your soul.” The line shows the love that Elvis Henderson has for the open road —and his open-minded view of the world. He can turn eyesores into philosophy.

Who are the writers who inspired you and shaped your style?

As a teenager, I devoured Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series. In the legal thriller genre, Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocence was an epiphany— like reading a modern-day Sophocles. Also, John Grisham and Philip Margolin. I’m a huge fan of Reginald Rose (12 Angry Men and the groundbreaking 1960s TV series “The Defenders”). As for straight thrillers, James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, and Dennis Lehane were inspirations. And I read a good amount of literary fiction: Michael Chabon, Jennifer Egan, Barbara Kingsolver, and Colson Whitehead (who’s marvelously blurred the line between thriller-fiction and literary fiction) are among my recent favorites.

What’s next?

In 2025, Blackstone Publishing will release A TRUE VERDICT, in which eight jurors who agree on nothing must find common ground to render a verdict in an explosive trial filled with secrets.


The Big Thrill Interviews USA Today Bestselling Author Robert Rotstein

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