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Rogue Lawyer

Rogue Lawyer

by John Grisham
Rogue Lawyer

Rogue Lawyer

by John Grisham


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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Featuring one of John Grisham’s most colorful, outrageous, and vividly drawn characters yet, Rogue Lawyer showcases the master of the legal thriller at his very best.

On the right side of the law—sort of—Sebastian Rudd is not your typical street lawyer. His office is a customized bulletproof van, complete with Wi-Fi, a bar, a small fridge, and fine leather chairs. He has no firm, no partners, and only one employee: his heavily armed driver, who also so happens to be his bodyguard, law clerk, confidant, and golf caddie. Sebastian drinks small-batch bourbon and carries a gun. He defends people other lawyers won’t go near: a drug-addled, tattooed kid rumored to be in a satanic cult; a vicious crime lord on death row; a homeowner arrested for shooting at a SWAT team that mistakenly invaded his house. Why these clients? Because Sebastian believes everyone is entitled to a fair trial—even if he has to bend the law to secure one.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101967669
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/26/2016
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 70,886
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

John Grisham is the author of forty-seven consecutive #1 bestsellers, which have been translated into nearly fifty languages. His recent books include The Judge's List, Sooley, and his third Jake Brigance novel, A Time for Mercy, which is being developed by HBO as a limited series.
Grisham is a two-time winner of the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction and was honored with the Library of Congress Creative Achievement Award for Fiction.
When he's not writing, Grisham serves on the board of directors of the Innocence Project and of Centurion Ministries, two national organizations dedicated to exonerating those who have been wrongfully convicted. Much of his fiction explores deep-seated problems in our criminal justice system.
John lives on a farm in central Virginia.


Oxford, Mississippi, and Albemarle County, Virginia

Date of Birth:

February 8, 1955

Place of Birth:

Jonesboro, Arkansas


B.S., Mississippi State, 1977; J.D., University of Mississippi, 1981

Read an Excerpt

     My name is Sebastian Rudd, and though I am a well‑known street lawyer, you will not see my name on billboards, on bus benches, or screaming at you from the yellow pages. I don’t pay to be seen on television, though I am often there. My name is not listed in any phone book. I do not maintain a traditional office. I carry a gun, legally, because my name and face tend to attract attention from the type of people who also carry guns and don’t mind using them. I live alone, usually sleep alone, and do not possess the patience and understanding necessary to maintain friendships. The law is my life, always consuming and occasionally fulfilling. I wouldn’t call it a “jealous mistress” as some forgotten person once so famously did. It’s more like an overbearing wife who controls the checkbook. There’s no way out.
     These nights I find myself sleeping in cheap motel rooms that change each week. I’m not trying to save money; rather, I’m just trying to stay alive. There are plenty of people who’d like to kill me right now,  and a few of them have been quite vocal. They don’t tell you in law school that one day you may find yourself defending a person charged with a crime so heinous that otherwise peaceful citizens feel driven to take up arms and threaten to kill the accused, his lawyer, and even the judge.
     But I’ve been threatened before. It’s part of being a rogue lawyer, a subspecialty of the profession that I more or less fell into ten years ago. When I finished law school, jobs were scarce. I reluctantly took a part‑time position in the City’s public defender’s office. From there I landed in a small, unprofitable firm that handled only criminal defense. After a few years, that firm blew up and I was on my own, out on the street with plenty of others, scrambling to make a buck.
     One case put me on the map. I can’t say it made me famous because, seriously, how can you say a lawyer is famous in a city of a million people? Plenty of local hacks think they’re famous. They smile from billboards as they beg for your bankruptcy and swagger in television ads as they seem deeply concerned about your personal injuries, but they’re forced to pay for their own publicity. Not me.
     The cheap motels change each week. I’m in the middle of a trial in a dismal, backwater, redneck town called Milo, two hours from where I live in the City. I am defending a brain‑damaged eighteen‑year‑old dropout who’s  charged with killing two little girls in one of the most evil crimes I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen plenty. My clients are almost always guilty, so I don’t waste a lot of time wringing my hands about whether they get what they deserve. In this case, though, Gardy is not guilty, not that it matters. It does not. What’s important in Milo these days is that Gardy gets convicted and sentenced to death and executed as soon as possible so that the town can feel better about itself and move on. Move on to where, exactly? Hell if I know, nor do I care. This place has been moving backward for fifty years, and one lousy verdict will not change its course. I’ve read and heard it said that Milo needs “closure,” whatever that means. You’d have to be an idiot to believe this town will somehow grow and prosper and become more tolerant as soon as Gardy gets the needle.
     My job is layered and complicated, and at the same time it’s quite simple. I’m being paid by the State to provide a first‑class defense to a defendant charged with capital murder, and this requires me to fight and claw and raise hell in a courtroom where no one is listening. Gardy was essentially convicted the day he was arrested, and his trial is only a formality. The dumb and desperate cops trumped up the charges and fabricated the evidence. The prosecutor knows this but has no spine and is up for reelection next year. The judge is asleep. The jurors are basically nice, simple people, wide‑eyed at the process and ever so anxious to believe the lies their proud authorities are producing on the witness stand.
     Milo has its share of cheap motels but I can’t stay there. I would be lynched or flayed or burned at the stake, or if I’m lucky a sniper would hit me between the eyes and it would be over in a flash. The state police are providing protection during the trial, but I get the clear impression these guys are just not into it. They view me the same way most people do. I’m a long‑haired roguish zealot sick enough to fight for the rights of child killers and the like.
     My current motel is a Hampton Inn located twenty‑five minutes from Milo. It costs $60 a night and the State will reimburse me. Next door is Partner, a hulking, heavily armed guy who wears black suits and takes me everywhere. Partner is my driver, bodyguard, confidant, paralegal, caddie, and only friend. I earned his loyalty when a jury found him not guilty of killing an undercover narcotics officer. We walked out of the courtroom arm in arm and have been inseparable ever since. On at least two occasions, off‑duty cops have tried to kill him. On one occasion, they came after me.
     We’re still standing. Or perhaps I should say we’re still ducking.
     At 8:00 a.m. Partner knocks on my door. It’s time to go. We say our good mornings and climb into my vehicle, which is a large black Ford cargo van, heavily customized for my needs. Since it doubles  as an office,  the rear seats have been rearranged around a small table that folds into a wall. There is a sofa where I often spend the night. All windows are shaded and bulletproof. It has a television, stereo system, Internet, refrigerator, bar, a couple of guns, and a change of clothes. I sit in the front with Partner and we unwrap fast‑food sausage biscuits as we leave the parking lot. An unmarked state police car moves in front of us for the escort to Milo. There is another one behind us. The last death threat was two days ago and came by e‑mail.
     Partner does not speak unless spoken to. I didn’t make this rule but I adore it. He is not the least bit bothered by long gaps in the conversation, nor am I. After years of saying next to nothing, we have learned to communicate with nods and winks and silence. Halfway to Milo I open a file and start taking notes.
     The double murder was so gruesome no local lawyer would touch it. Then Gardy was arrested, and one look at Gardy and you know he’s guilty. Long hair dyed jet‑black, an astonishing collection of piercings above the neck and tattoos below, matching steel earrings, cold pale eyes, and a smirk that says, “Okay, I did it, now what?” In its very first story, the Milo newspaper described him as “a member of a satanic cult who has a record of molesting children.”
     How’s that for honest and unbiased reporting? He was never a member of a satanic cult and the child molestation thing is not what it seems.  But from that moment Gardy was guilty, and I still marvel at the fact that we’ve made it this far. They wanted to string him up months ago.
     Needless to say, every lawyer in Milo locked his door and unplugged her phone. There is no public defender system in the town—it’s too small—and the indigent cases are doled out by the judge. There  is  an unwritten  rule that the  younger lawyers in town take these low‑paying cases because (1) someone has to and (2) the older lawyers did so when they were younger. But no one would agree to defend Gardy, and, to be honest, I can’t really blame them. It’s their town and their lives, and to rub shoulders with such a twisted murderer could do real damage to a career.
     As a society, we adhere to the belief in a fair trial for a person accused of a serious crime, but some of us struggle when it comes to the business of providing a competent lawyer to guarantee said fair trial. Lawyers like me live with the question “But how do you represent such scum? ”
     I offer a quick “Someone has to” as I walk away.
     Do we really want fair trials? No, we do not. We want justice, and quickly. And justice is whatever we deem it to be on a case‑by‑case basis.
     It’s just as well that we don’t believe in fair trials because we damned sure don’t have them. The presumption of innocence is now the presumption of guilt. The burden of proof is a travesty because the proof is often lies. Guilt beyond a reasonable doubt means if he probably did it, then let’s get him off the streets.
     At any rate, the lawyers ran for the hills and Gardy had no one. It’s a commentary, sad or otherwise, on my reputation that I soon got the phone call. In this end of the state, it is now well known in legal circles that if you can’t find anybody else, call Sebastian Rudd. He’ll defend anybody!
     When Gardy was arrested, a mob showed up outside the jail and screamed for justice. When the police perp‑walked him to a van for the ride to the courthouse, the mob cursed him and threw tomatoes and rocks. This was thoroughly reported by the local newspaper and even made the City’s evening news (there is no network station based in Milo, only a low‑end cable outfit). I howled for a change of venue, pleaded with the judge to move the trial at least a hundred miles away so we could hopefully find some jurors who hadn’t thrown stuff at the kid, or at the least cursed him over dinner. But we were denied. All of my pretrial motions were denied.
     Again, the town wants justice. The town wants closure.
     There is no mob to greet me and my van as we pull in to a short driveway behind the courthouse, but some of the usual actors are here. They huddle behind a police barricade not far away and hold their sad signs that say such clever things as “Hang the Baby Killer,” and “Satan Is Waiting,” and “Crud Rudd out of Milo!” There are about a dozen of these pathetic souls, just waiting to jeer at me and, more important, to show their hatred to Gardy, who will arrive at the same place in about five minutes. During the early days of the trial, this little crowd attracted cameras and a few of these people made it into the newspapers, along with their signs. This, of course, encouraged them and they’ve been here every morning since. Fat Susie holds the “Crud Rudd” sign and looks like she wants to shoot me. Bullet Bob claims to be a relative of one of the dead girls and was quoted as saying something to the effect that a trial was a waste of time.
     He was right about that, I’m afraid.
     When the van stops, Partner hurries around to my door, where he’s met by three young deputies about his size. I step out and am properly shielded, then I’m whisked into the rear door of the courthouse as Bullet Bob calls me a whore. Another safe entry. I’m not aware of any case in modern times in which a criminal defense attorney was gunned down while entering a courthouse in the middle of a trial. Nevertheless, I have resigned myself to the likelihood that I could well be the first.
     We climb a narrow rear staircase that’s off‑limits to everyone else, and I’m led to a small windowless room where they once held prisoners waiting to see the judge. A few minutes later, Gardy arrives in one piece. Partner steps outside and closes the door. 
     “How ya doing?” I ask when we are alone.
     He smiles and rubs his wrists, unshackled for a few hours. “Okay, I guess. Didn’t sleep much.” He  didn’t shower either because he’s afraid to shower. He tries it occasionally but they won’t turn on the hot water. So Gardy reeks of stale sweat and dirty sheets, and I’m thankful he’s far enough away from the jury. The black dye is slowly leaving his hair and each day it gets lighter, and his skin gets paler. He’s changing colors in front of the jury, another clear sign of his animalistic capabilities and satanic bent.
     “What’s gonna happen today?” he asks, with an almost childlike curiosity. He has an IQ of 70, just barely enough to be prosecuted and put to death.
     “More of the same, Gardy, I’m afraid. Just more of the same.”
     “Can’t you make them stop lying? ”
     “No, I cannot.”
     The State has no physical evidence linking Gardy to the murders. Zero. So, instead of evaluating its lack of evidence and reconsidering its case, the State is doing what it often does. It’s plowing ahead with lies and fabricated testimony.
     Gardy has spent two weeks in the courtroom, listening to the lies, closing his eyes while slowly shaking his head. He’s able to shake his head for hours at a time, and the jurors must think he’s crazy. I’ve told him to stop, to sit up, to take a pen and scribble something on a legal pad as if he has a brain and wants to fight back, to win. But he simply cannot do this and I cannot argue with my client in the courtroom.  I’ve also told him to cover his arms and neck to hide the tattoos, but he’s proud of them. I’ve told him to lose the piercings, but he insists on being who he is. The bright folks who run the Milo jail forbid piercings of all types, unless, of course, you’re Gardy and you’re headed back to the courtroom. In that case, stick ’em all over your face. Look as sick and creepy and satanic as possible, Gardy, so that your peers will have no trouble with your guilt.
     On a nail is a hanger with the same white shirt and khaki pants he’s worn every day. I paid for this cheap ensemble. He slowly unzips the orange jail jumpsuit and steps out of it. He does not wear underwear, something I noticed the first day of the trial and have tried to ignore since. He slowly gets dressed. “So much lying,” he says.
     And he’s right. The State has called nineteen witnesses so far and not a single  one resisted the temptation to embellish a bit, or to lie outright. The pathologist who did the autopsies at the state crime lab told the jury the two little victims had drowned, but he also added that “blunt force trauma” to their heads was a contributing factor. It’s a better story for the prosecution if the jury believes the girls were raped and beaten senseless before being tossed into the pond. There’s no physical proof they were in any way sexually molested, but that hasn’t stopped the prosecution from making this a part of its case. I haggled with the pathologist for three hours, but it’s tough arguing with an expert, even an incompetent one.
     Since the State has no evidence, it is forced to manufacture some. The most outrageous testimony came from a jailhouse snitch they call Smut, an appropriate nickname. Smut is an accomplished courtroom liar who testifies all the time and will say whatever the prosecutors want him to say. In Gardy’s case, Smut was back in jail on a drug charge and looking at ten years in prison. The cops needed some testimony, and, not surprisingly, Smut was at their disposal. They fed him details of the crimes, then transferred Gardy from a regional jail to a county jail where Smut was locked up. Gardy had no idea why he was being transferred and had no clue that he was walking into a trap. (This happened before I got involved.) They threw Gardy into a small cell with Smut, who was anxious to talk and wanted to help in any way. He claimed to hate the cops  and know some good lawyers. He’d also read about the murders of the two girls and had a hunch he knew who really killed them. Since Gardy knew nothing about the murders, he had nothing to add to the conversation. Nonetheless, within twenty‑four hours Smut claimed he’d heard a full confession. The cops yanked him out of the cell and Gardy never saw him again, until trial. As a witness, Smut cleaned up nicely, wore a shirt and tie and short hair, and hid his tattoos from the jury. In amazing detail, he replayed Gardy’s account of how he stalked the two girls into the woods, knocked them off their bikes, gagged and bound them, then tortured, molested, and beat them before tossing them into the pond. In Smut’s  version, Gardy was high on drugs and had been listening to heavy metal.
     It was quite a performance. I knew it was all a lie, as did Gardy and Smut, along with the cops and prosecutors, and I suspect the judge had his doubts too. Nevertheless, the jurors swallowed it in disgust and glared with hatred at my client, who absorbed it with his eyes closed and his head shaking, no, no, no. Smut’s testimony was so breathtakingly gruesome and rich with details that it was hard to believe, at times, that he was really fabricating it. No one can lie like that!
     I hammered at Smut for eight full hours, one long exhausting day. The judge was cranky and the jurors were bleary‑eyed, but I could have kept going for a week. I asked Smut how many times he’d testified in criminal trials. He said maybe twice. I pulled out the records,  refreshed  his memory, and went through the nine other trials in which he’d performed the same miracle for our honest and fair‑minded prosecutors. With his muddled memory somewhat restored, I asked him how many times he’d had his sentence reduced by the prosecutors after lying for them in court. He said never, so I went through each of the nine cases again. I produced the paperwork. I made it perfectly clear to everyone, especially the jurors, that Smut was a lying, serial snitch who swapped bogus testimony for leniency.      I confess—I get angry in court, and this is often detrimental. I blew my cool with Smut and hammered him so relentlessly that some of the jurors became sympathetic. The judge finally told me to move on, but I didn’t. I hate liars, especially those who swear to tell the truth and then fabricate testimony to convict my client. I yelled at Smut and the judge yelled at me, and at times it seemed as though everyone was yelling. This did not help Gardy’s cause.
     You would think the prosecutor might break up his parade of liars with a credible witness, but this would require some intelligence. His next witness was another inmate, another druggie who testified he was in the hallway near Gardy’s cell and heard him confess to Smut.
     Lies on top of lies.
     “Please make them stop,” Gardy says.
     “I’m trying, Gardy. I’m doing the best I can. We need to go.”


Barnes & Noble Review Interview with John Grisham

To talk with John Grisham about the process of writing his latest novel is to get evidence, in conversation, of the kind of overwhelming energy required to found a new genre of fiction and write more than two dozen international bestsellers: friendly and gracious to a fault, the author is also in possession of a restless attention that anticipates questions before they are asked and leaves the interviewer wondering if he really is as easy to read as all that. The idea of being cross-examined by John Grisham on the stand is not a prospect one would face with a lot of pleasure.

What is fun is hearing the dynamic author talk with evident relish about Rogue Lawyer, his thirtieth novel and the apparent lead-off in a new series that stars Sebastian Rudd, a gun-for-hire attorney who conducts his business out of a van, employs an imposing bodyguard, and sees legal ethics as something of a musical instrument to be played on — freely — by those who have the skill to do so. He also spoke of his work on the Innocence Project, an organization that uses DNA evidence to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, and why he hates to reread his prior work. We spoke earlier this year at Book Expo America, before Rogue Lawyer was published. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation. —Bill Tipper

The Barnes & Noble Review: What I was immediately struck in by Rogue Lawyer, by comparison to earlier books, was a shift in your writing style and the diction and velocity of the prose. It took me a minute to orient myself. I thought, "This is as hard-boiled as I think I've read John Grisham." Was that your intention?

John Grisham: Oh, sure. I started writing it probably three years ago, just as an idea. I have a lot of ideas for stories based on real cases I read about, usually something dealing with a horrible injustice in the system, something that I would love to see addressed or fixed or exposed or written about. There are a lot of those.

BNR: Some kind of flaw in the way that we think about justice and the law that produces a story.

JG: Sure. A lot of those, though, cannot stand up to the rigors of a full-length novel. So they are smaller stories. I want to address the issues: I want to meet some of the characters. For years I've been thinking how can I do that in such a way that I can make it compelling and readable and a whole lot of fun. So I came up with this voice, which is basically me, my observations of the system. When I was a lawyer, I sort of admired the guys who were really out-there, the fearless guys who were taking the bad cases, who would take the case nobody else would take, who were in court all the time, who were basically just kind of fearless. I wasn't that way. I was a bit too nervous.

This all came out in the character of Sebastian: A voice, the guy who's at war with the system, the guy who's fighting for injustice, and then through him we can expose all these different issues that need to be talked about. So it was gradual.

I wrote the first installment, based on a real trial. When I finished it (I don't know how long it took, and I have not been in a hurry with it), I thought, "This is going to work." This stuff is fun to read. When I write something, and I go back and read it, and I say, "This is fun to read," it's going to work.

BNR: Is that your acid test generally? Or do you feel sometimes like you don't need to do that; you know you've got a good story?

JG: I have never gone back and read an entire novel after it was published, because by the time it's published, I'm really tired of it. I write them in 6 months or 9 months or 12 months or whatever, and it's a burst of energy, and I put a lot of work through it. Then you go through the editing, editing, copyediting, endless proofreading. So when the thing goes to press, I'm really happy. I can't touch it any more. I can't take any more.

So I just don't go back and read them, with the exception of two books, Bleachers and a short story collection, because I had to read those for the audio. Which I'll never do again. It's too much work. I did it twice — for Bleachers, and I read the short stories — and it's really labor. You have to sit in a sound stage for hours and do that. But other than those stories, I don't go back and read them, because I don't want to.

BNR: You never had to go back and say, "I have to re-read A Time to Kill because I'm coming back to that place, and I need to know what I said?"

JG: Oh, big time. Sycamore Row was a bear to write, because I had to go back and read so much of A Time to Kill.

BNR: You hadn't given yourself the privilege of a blank canvas that you usually have, where you can always start with whatever you want to do at that moment.

JG: Yes. That's why it's tricky. Plus, you can't make mistakes. You can't get something wrong. This Theodore Boone thing is driving me crazy, because this is #5 — and I can't tell you what's in the first four. There are little details. "Does Theo have a cell phone?" I can't remember all this stuff, and it's getting to be a problem.

BNR: I was talking to Sloane Crosley about her new novel, and she said she found that process enjoyable. She had lot of characters, and said it was a treasure hunt kind of thing in the end, where she had to go through the manuscript looking for places where, for example one character turns his nose up at a drink early on because it was not a brown liquor, and then discovered she had him ordering a vodka tonic later on. She said it was kind of fun to catch those things. But I gather it's not always a lot of fun for you?

JG: I don't think it's fun at all. It's frightening to make those mistakes — and I've made them. I'm making a lot of mistakes with Theo, because I don't want to go plow through and annotate the whole thing, and whatever. It's also kind of scary when you do catch something right before it's published, like the vodka drink . . . Because you don't want to make a mistake, you don't want to get caught, and you're going to get caught a thousand times — they send you letters. It's like "gotcha — ha-ha!" And then you're nailed. You can't lie your way out of it. You made a mistake.

I get letters from every book where people point out mistakes I've made in factual things, primarily guns and ammo. I know nothing, OK? Don't really want to learn. Not my hot button. But I make mistakes all the time talking about guns and ammo, and believe me . . .

BNR: They figure into the cases, but there are always going to be people who have a more geeky sort of attachment to any sort of technological thing like the caliber that would be in a certain make of a gun.

JG: Computers. I'm a low-tech caveman. Not only am I low-tech, I don't want to learn anything. I don't like having a cell phone in my pocket. I don't like having to submit my books electronically. I like the old-fashioned way better. Well, you can't live like that nowadays. You've got to learn some stuff. And Theo is on Facebook.

BNR: You couldn't write a believable teenager with the same attitudes that are natural for you.

JG: No way. So fortunately, my agent, David Gernert, has got an office full of young, smart, tech-savvy 20- somethings, who eat this stuff up. So when I write a scene involving Facebook or Twitter or whatever, they always review it for me.

If I'm [writing a story with a character] wiring money in offshore accounts or Swiss banks or whatever, somebody else is going to look at it, somebody with some expertise. Even a lot of the legal stuff, I'll get a lawyer buddy to give it a look. Because you think of yourself as a professional; you just don't want to make mistakes.

With A Time to Kill it drove me crazy, and I guess this [Rogue Lawyer] is going to do the same thing, because it's another series, you know.

BNR: It's not a surprise that his voice is so immediately recognizable. So I want to talk a bit about where that voice came from. What's interesting is that he's a lawyer, but his kinship is with, I feel, private detectives and the kind of Philip Marlowe figure. Trouble walks into his office, and it's clear you've created someone whose struggle is to sort of figure out how to be the good guy. There's a scene in which he's weighing all the different scenarios of what his options are.

JG: Also, and you'll see this in the book, he is constantly torn between the ethics of his profession and confronting other lawyers and judges and cops who have no ethics. In his trials the prosecutor puts on witnesses that he knows to be lying — a cop or an informant or whatever. So Sebastian takes the position, "They're cheating, so I'm going to cheat." Once the authorities legitimize cheating in a trial, all bets are off. He struggles with that all the time.

There are three different trials in the book: There's more legal stuff in Rogue than any other book I've written. It's three straight trials, and some more stuff. But in the last trial, Sebastian has a chance to cheat and win — but he doesn't do it because the prosecutor is not cheating. He's playing it straight, for a change. For the next trial, the same prosecutor may cheat. So he's going to have to think the whole time about how much cheating is OK, which is really fascinating to explore, and how do you cheat? How do you cheat in your trial? Well, there are a lot of ways to do it. This is stuff I love. I love to read about it, I love to write it.

BNR: Do you find yourself trying to follow new developments, new kind of problems in the law where you say, "This would create attention . . . " I'm thinking about states, for example, where they try to come up with legal justifications for acquiring the pharmaceuticals to do executions, which are new justifications, new arguments, because they've never faced this issue before, of legally having the power to do an execution but being constrained in all kinds of ways, and finding it hard to make it through . . . to get that done. Do you kind of keep your eye open for these new wrinkles?

JG: Nonstop. I have a file on the drugs used for executions. In the story, part one is a horrible murder trial in which Sebastian is defending the accused in a small town, nearby, and the kid is facing the death penalty, and the town can't wait to execute him. In Part 2, Sebastian is on death row with a client who is about to be executed. So there is a lot of death row stuff in this book. I am fascinated by the issue of the death penalty. I've written about it many times in other books. But now they can't find the drugs, and again, it's a fascinating issue to explore.

Also, with the death penalty, Nebraska abolished it yesterday, the first conservative state to do so ever. We see a dramatic decrease in the number of death verdicts and executions every year. But what's behind that? Well, I'm on the board of the Innocence Project here in New York. We think it's because we've had so many high-profile exonerations that jurors are now far more skeptical about what the cops and prosecutors tell them. They're far more demanding. There are fewer bad convictions than you think. But that's right down my alley, and that's the kind of stuff I love to write about. And Sebastian will explore all those issues.

BNR: You do so much work with things like the Innocence Project: I want to ask whether you ever feel there is a tension between, "I'm interested in writing about this in the book, but I've got to be careful what I say because I don't want to create the impression that I think one thing when there's this other debate going on" or do they all kind of feed each other?

JG: They just feed each other. On the Innocence Project board, we look at thousands of cases. I don't personally, but I come across them. We've had 325 exonerations in the last 20 years. I wrote a nonfiction book about one of them. Every wrongful conviction deserves a great book. They are all fascinating. You lock a man up for 25 years for a rape he didn't commit, and what went wrong . . . And the real rapist is still out there. I wish I had the time and resources to write one a year, an innocence story every year.

So the material comes to us. The material comes to me. All I've got to do is regurgitate it, run it through a hyperactive imagination, change the names — and you've got a great story. They're out there. Anybody can do that. The newspapers are full of them.

BNR: Speaking of other people who do this, one thing I was struck by — it may be the kind of thing you've done in other books and I've failed to notice, but this is where I noticed it first: In Rogue Lawyer, right away we learn that Sebastian likes to unwind reading Michael Connolly and James Lee Burke. I thought, "Is that John Grisham winking a little bit at his colleagues?

JG: Yeah. Well, I enjoy both those guys. A lot. I know Michael a little bit. I've never met James Burke. But two of my favorites. I've toyed with the idea: Stephen King, a few years ago — he's a great buddy of mine — gave me a cheap shot in one of his books, some guy who was barely literate and was reading Grisham. I called him out on it, because he was not getting back, and two books later I nailed him. So just stuff like that, we go back and forth.

But I'm still thinking about what kind of books would Sebastian read? Murder mysteries. Crime fiction. The dark stuff. That's what he likes.

BNR: Would he read John Grisham, or would that be too close to his own work to be impressed?

JG: Great question. I don't know. He probably would love the content, but it could easily be something he'd want to stay away from. That's his life.

—November 5, 2015

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