His long-lost son was the last person Dan Shepard, the Rattlesnake Lawyer, expected to meet when he was ordered to be at the courthouse in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Poor fourteen-year old Marley might even be psychic. With his special abilities, Marley can help Dan take his local practice statewide. Rattlesnake & Son could be the next great New Mexico law firm.
Unfortunately, things go exceedingly wrong at school for Marley and he is charged with some very serious crimes. The Rattlesnake Lawyer now has to represent his son in his wildest trial yet. When he learns the truth about his son, Dan and Marley will have to face some extremely dangerous consequences.
About the Author
Jonathan Miller is the author of the award-winning Rattlesnake Lawyer books. His last novel, Luna Law, was a co-winner of the 2017 Tony Hillerman award for fiction at the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards. He is an attorney who has practiced criminal law in New Mexico for over 17 years. He is a graduate of Albuquerque Academy, Cornell University, the University of Colorado Law School, and the American Film Institute. He currently practices criminal defense around New Mexico.
Q: Briefly, what is Rattlesnake & Son about?
Jonathan: I’d call it a cross between Stephen King’s “Carrie” and “Better Call Saul.” A cynical attorney has to defend his psychic son after the boy is bullied at school and acts out. Since much of the novel is set in Truth or Consequences, NM, the book is divided into the three parts – Truth, Or, and Consequences.
In “Truth,” we meet Dan Shepard, a lawyer who handles the breakdown docket, cases where the previous lawyer had some kind of a breakdown. Dan is on the edge of his own breakdown until he meets his son Marley, who had been living with Dan’s ex-wife, Luna. Luna is now the head of an aerospace company that’s about to launch its first rocket at Spaceport America in T or C. Marley might have psychic abilities; but then again, he just might have issues. Marley’s supposed to start boarding school down in Las Cruces against Dan’s wishes. Needless to say, while the family tries to reunite, everything goes wrong and Marley is charged with some very serious crimes.
In “Or,” Dan has to represent Marley for a crime at school and Dan has to defend him. Dan finds that nothing is as it seems in the courtroom, and has to work with Marley and his powers to save the day.
In the final part “Consequences,” Dan has to deal with the aftermath of the trial, and finds that he might have latent psychic powers of his own.
Q: Your main character, Dan Shephard is a defense lawyer in New Mexico, as are you. Are there many similarities between yourself and your character?
J: Dan and I are about the same age, and have had many similar experiences. Still, I’d like to think I’m a much better lawyer than him, and far less neurotic. Dan has had a far more interesting life than I’ve hadmurder trials, international conspiracies, and martial arts battles. Dan has some awareness that he’s a character in a novel, but he’s angry that I’ve stolen his stories and he doesn’t seem to be getting compensated for it.
Q: In Rattlesnake & Son, Dan is reunited with his son Marley, who he’s not seen for a long time. In the story Marley may or may not have some psychic abilities. Was it difficult to include the supernatural elements to a legal thriller?
J: I had visited a psychic up in Santa Fe as research, and I’ve had experiences that I can only describe as visions. I pass a place on the freeway, and I literally can see a complete story element in my mind’s eye. I wanted the courtroom scenes to be realistic, despite some fantasy elements. At one time a character says “He’s turning a court of law into a nightmare,” and Dan responds that “I’m turning a nightmare into a court of law.”
I listened to a lot of Stephen King on books on tape as I drove around the state for work. The book also involves an elaborate trick inspired by magicians Penn & Teller, but operated from the assumption that the magic was real. I also name-checked Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol.”
Q: Where do you draw your inspiration for your novels? Have your drawn on real trials as inspiration?
J: The trials aren’t real, but the feelings are. During the courtroom scenes, I wanted to throw in a trial lawyer’s deepest fearshe’s not prepared, he’d forgotten to file an important motion, he stipulated to something he shouldn’t have stipulated to, his client will be found guilty and there’s nothing to be done about it, and of course he has to go to the bathroom and can’t get out of the courtroom.
Q: A large portion of Rattlesnake & Son takes place in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. What drew you to using TorC as a setting for this book?
J: I moved to Albuquerque at fourteen and started Albuquerque Academy as a freshman. I didn’t fit in to the city or the school. Albuquerque is twice as big now and far more sophisticated. It is my understanding that Academy now does a fantastic job of making newcomers feel comfortable. I wanted to have an even greater culture shock for poor Marley. Making him go to a military boarding school raised the stakes even higher.
As for T or C, while it is rural, I’m fascinated by the Spaceport south of town. I also love to soak in the hot springs at least once a month.
Q: This book primarily takes place in TorC and Albuquerque, but there are many other locations as well including Tucumcari, Las Cruces, and Santa Fe. Do you have any special connection to these locations? How do you decide what locations to feature in your novel?
J: As an attorney in New Mexico, I have to travel thousands of miles a month. I’ve been to all these places for my practice over the last year. I also tried to use fresh locations in every book. My last novel, Luna Law, featured Los Alamos, Deming, Clovis and Carrizozo. This novel I wanted to use places that were off freeways so I could use exit numbers. That way, we know how far Dan is from his home base in Albuquerque. I liked the fact that there’s an Exit “0” in Las Cruces. I’m sure that’s a metaphor for something.
Q: You drive a lot across New Mexico as a lawyer. Do you have a favorite location in the state; someplace that you think brings out the best of the Land of Enchantment?
J: In the novel, Dan takes Marley to see the sunrise at Exit 263, San Ignacio, New Mexico. There once was a little pond that perfectly reflected the sun at dawn. The whole lake would turn pink. Unfortunately, that pond is dry this month. I hope it will come back again.
That being said, when I’m on the road, I love seeing sunrises. It’s worth going off the freeway to the parking lot on the shore of Elephant Butte lake to watch the dawn. That’s why I ended the book there.
Q: While a work of fiction, Rattlesnake & Son includes many legal rulings and decisions. Are these based on fact and actual statutes in the state? How much research do you do to make sure the “law” is right in your books?
J: I’ve been a member of the New Mexico Bar for thirty years. I’ve taken some dramatic license. The cases proceed much quicker than in real life. I have written cross-examinations for my novels and then used them in real life.
In the trial in the book, there are several locations and several different judges. That probably wouldn’t happen in real life.
Q: Of your characters in your books, who would you chose to spend time with if you could?
J: Not Dan. He would drive me crazy. Marley is clearly the son that I will never have and I would love to help him achieve his potential. I think Denise, the nanny with a secret, is a fascinating character.
Q: What’s next for the Rattlesnake Lawyer? Will we be seeing more of Dan, Luna Cruz, or any of the other characters?
J: I’ve already outlined a story for Denise. It’s tentatively called “The Lordsburg Incident,” where she’s a lawyer and a ninja, believe it or not. Her brother is charged with shooting at the cops thinking that they are aliens and hires Denise to represent him. She raises his insanity. But suppose her brother is telling the truth?
I honestly don’t know what happens to Dan next. I’m sure I’ll get a psychic vision somewhere on the road.