Talking Thrillers with Robert Rotstein: The Out-of-Town Lawyer

Robert Rotstein’s legal drama, We, The Jury (Blackstone Publishing October 2018), is a USA Today best seller and a Suspense Magazine Best Thriller of 2018. With James Patterson, he is the author of The Family Lawyer, the title story of the New York Times best selling collection. He’s written Corrupt Practices (2013, Booklist starred review); Reckless Disregard (2014, Kirkus and Booklist starred reviews), and The Bomb Maker’s Son (2015), a series about lawyer Parker Stern.

We caught up with Robert to discuss his latest release, The Out-of-Town Lawyer, that Kirkus is calling “A highly original courtroom drama ripped from the headlines and then some.”

TFx: Where did you come up with the idea for this book, and what can you tell us about the plot?

Rotstein: 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.


In the novel, a young woman, Destiny Grace Harper, becomes pregnant with identical twins who suffer from TTTS—a rare, usually fatal condition that can be treated in utero with minimally evasive surgery. After Destiny Grace refuses the surgery on religious grounds, the babies die, and a zealous prosecutor in Quartz County, Alabama, prosecutes her for murder. Enter Elvis Henderson, a traveling criminal defense attorney who roams the country in his campervan fighting injustice. He receives assignments from Hazel Curnow, a once iconic trial lawyer turned recluse. When Curnow assigns Elvis the Harper case, however, he balks. Quartz County is his former home, and he left under a dark cloud at age eighteen without any intention of returning. But Elvis relents, and when he arrives in Alabama, he immediately realizes the case is fraught with complications: a desperate client whose story keeps shifting; a local populace who vociferously defend the rights of the unborn; a charismatic minister whose family lords over the town; a ruthless DA with political ambitions; an old-school judge who relishes handing down capital convictions; and a sheriff who might just want Elvis dead.

TFx: What perspectives or beliefs have you challenged with this work?

Rotstein: Elvis and his brilliant colleague, paralegal Margaret Booth, dedicate themselves to defending Destiny Grace Harper’s right to control her own body. Yet State v. Harper is neither Dobbs nor Roe v. Wade. On the one hand, the district attorney argues that a pregnant woman must submit to government-mandated surgery on threat of criminal prosecution. Does this mean that if the woman physically resists the surgery, the authorities have the right strap her to a gurney and forcibly anesthetize her? On the other hand, the surgery in Destiny Grace’s particular case would’ve been minimally invasive—a single night in the hospital and low risk of complications or scarring. Because she refused the surgery, her babies ultimately died a horrible death. Even Elvis and Margaret grapple with these conflicting threads. Add to this a not-always-sympathetic client. Does Destiny Grace truly deserve to go free? So, the novel explores whether our legal system can effectively resolve complex disputes about personal freedom.

TFx: How much research went into the writing of this book?

Rotstein: First, I dove headlong into some novel legal issues—what do the judicial opinions say about forced surgery on pregnant woman? What part, if any, does the woman’s religious beliefs play in the decisions? Many of those cases involve C-sections supposedly necessary for the unborn to survive. Unsurprisingly, the courts are split depending on their location north or south. Striking (at least to me) is that, all-too-often, forced surgeries have resulted in poor outcomes for both mother and baby.


I also researched cases in which women have been criminally charged with harming their unborn babies—often as a result of substance abuse during pregnancy. The most shocking? In Alabama, a pregnant woman was shot, and the unborn baby died. A grand jury issued an indictment—not against the shooter, who supposedly acted in self-defense, but rather against the gunshot victim for causing a dangerous situation resulting in her baby’s death. Fortunately, the charges were later dropped.

I also conducted research on a condition called twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, or TTTS, a rare condition afflicting only identical twins who share a placenta. Destiny Grace Harper’s twins suffered from TTTS. Without recently developed in utero surgery, the outcome for the babies is dismal—severe birth defects or death.

TFx: Which actor can you imagine playing the main character in the movie version of your book?

Rotstein: In his late-40s, Elvis Henderson has a craggy, handsome face and shoulder-length, blond hair, which he wears in a ponytail on formal occasions. He’s inclined to favor bolo ties while arguing in a court of law. To help conjure Elvis’s voice, appearance, demeanor, and diction, I listened to the audio version of Greenlights, actor Matthew McConaughey’s memoir. So, there you go!

TFx: If you had to describe your book in just three words, what would they be, and why did you choose those words?

Rotstein: Controversial. Thought-provoking. Thrilling.


In this post-Dobbs era, The Out-of-Town Lawyer addresses a woman’s right to dominion over her body, one of the most controversial issues of our time. I actually finished the book when Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land. Dobbs made the story even more timely.

But the book is thought-provoking because it’s not about abortion. Someone who vehemently supports a woman’s right to choose might still abhor Destiny Grace’s decision to forgo a relatively straightforward procedure that would save her twins from pain and death. Conversely, someone on the other side of the issue might nonetheless resent the government’s attempt to intrude—literally—into a person’s body and to ignore her religious beliefs.

Despite addressing some heady legal and social issues, The Out-of-Town Lawyer is a true legal thriller. The courtroom scenes sizzle with tension. Hostile protestors gather outside the courthouse, threatening violence. Further charging the electric atmosphere of the proceedings are the secrets that Elvis and Destiny Grace each struggle to keep. And on top of it all, fueling every moment, is Elvis’s race against the clock to expose those who mean to do him harm.

Get Robert Rotstein’s latest release, The Out-of-Town Lawyer, out now on Amazon

"The Out-of-Town Lawyer sparkles. A provocative and stirring clash of science, faith, and the law" - James W. Ziskin, author of the award-winning Ellie Stone myseries

The Quartz County, Alabama district attorney has charged Destiny Grace Harper with murdering her unborn twins—a crime punishable by death. However, Alabama v. Harper isn’t your ordinary homicide case. Harper’s babies suffered from a rare disorder called TTTS, a fatal condition if left untreated, but correctable with minimally invasive surgery. Harper refused the surgery on religious grounds, resulting in the death of both babies, and now Harper is on trial.

Enter Elvis Henderson, a traveling criminal defense attorney who roams the country in his campervan. He receives assignments from Hazel Curnow, a once iconic trial lawyer turned recluse. When Curnow assigns Elvis the Harper case, he balks—Quartz County is his home turf. He left Alabama under a dark cloud at age eighteen and has no intention of returning.

When Elvis arrives to meet his paralegal, Margaret Booth, they immediately realize the case is fraught with complications: a desperate client whose story keeps shifting; a local populace who vociferously defend the rights of the unborn; a charismatic minister whose family lords over the town; a ruthless DA with political ambitions; an old-school judge who relishes handing down capital convictions; and a sheriff who might just want Elvis dead.

An action-packed ride to a shocking verdict, The Out-of-Town Lawyer is a gripping legal thriller that explores family love, reconciliation, and the moral and legal issues that draw a fine line between tragedy and crime.

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