SRP: This is your debut novel! How does it feel?
James: I am excited at seeing Misjudged published. The entire project started several years ago with a sort of off-handed comment to my wife after I’d read a particularly poor novel: “I could write a better book than that,” I said. “Well, why don’t you?” And it was on. The process of writing, revising, finding a publisher and working with the SRP team to bring the book to readers has been eye-opening—you have no idea the amount of work that goes into publishing a book until you go through it. It has been both challenging and exhilarating, and it will be fun to see everyone’s efforts come to fruition. I hope readers will enjoy themselves for a couple of hours.
SRP: Where did you come up with the idea for Misjudged?
James: When I decided to write the novel, I had a very rough outline in mind. Misjudged is admittedly a character-driven, rather than plot-driven, novel. Because I’m not trying to make any points or drive home an agenda in my books, and because trials are structured, linear affairs, the plot beyond the initial outline evolved from the characters: “How would a guy like Sam handle a situation like X?” “What would Judge Daniels do if confronted by Y?” and so on. The key players are composite portraits of men and women I have known, mostly inspired by military officers I encountered during my career (trust me when I tell you the Pentagon was a rich source of material). I had some procedural and forensic twists I wanted to introduce, so I outlined and revised until I felt like I had a solid idea for a novel I could sit down and write.
SRP: What can you tell us about the plot?
James: Misjudged introduces the reader to Sam Johnstone, a disabled veteran who went to law school after being discharged from the Army. After struggling at a law firm in Washington, D.C., a down-on-his-luck Sam accepts an offer from an old friend to relocate to rural Wyoming to practice in a last-ditch effort to save his career—and himself. Against his better judgment, Sam agrees to defend a veteran accused of killing a prominent local attorney. Misjudged follows Sam and the other key players as the case develops and is tried in front of a jury. Along the way, Sam struggles with his demons while he and the various participants find their assumptions about the actions and motives of others are not always accurate.
SRP: Why did you choose Wyoming as your setting?
James: I’ve been fortunate to have been around the world several times—and yet, here I am! I love Wyoming like only someone who has been everywhere else can. Custer, Wyoming is a fictional place, but I think it represents what Wyoming, its people, and its legal practitioners are all about. I gave serious thought to basing the novel elsewhere, but decided I was most comfortable with Wyoming people, places and law.
SRP: What’s next for Sam Johnstone?
James: The next novel in the series, One and Done, follows Sam as he defends a star athlete charged with the murder of a gay college student. While the facts alone are problematic, outside pressures and Sam’s internal struggles complicate an already difficult situation and threaten to interfere with Sam’s defense of his client. I’m already mulling some general ideas for the third book. There’s a minor character—a woman—who was introduced in One and Done. I think she might merit a closer look. I could see some interesting things happening in her life, and her interaction with Sam could get complicated.
SRP: Have you read any good books lately?
James: My reading is heavily weighted toward non-fiction, especially military history. Right now, I am reading several books dealing with the Great Sioux War and the Army of the West. As a retired Army officer formerly assigned to places like Fort Riley, Fort Leavenworth, and Fort Bliss, I have a fondness for the old Cavalry posts. It must have been an amazing experience to be garrisoned at one of those posts at the relevant time. My fiction reading is rare and leans toward dated detective novels, police procedurals and thrillers. I’m a huge fan of Robert B. Parker (who could say more in fewer words?), Evan Hunter a/k/a Ed McBain (talk about page-turners!), and Alistair MacLean (the breadth of subjects he dealt with in his thrillers is unmatched). I am not as a rule a big fan of legal thrillers, and purposely and with malice aforethought have read but a single legal thriller since I started writing Misjudged in 2016: Anatomy of a Murder, by Robert Traver, the pen name for John D. Voelker.
SRP: If you were shipwrecked on a deserted island with all your physical needs taken care of—such as food and water, what two items would you want to have with you?
James: I would need a fly rod to keep me busy and some way to communicate with my wife and daughters. Although I tend toward the misanthropic, I love the women in my life and would need to communicate with them—if only to send them pictures of my catch.
Misjudged is available to purchase here.
When a disabled veteran takes a new job as an attorney in a small Wyoming town, he is thrust into a mysterious murder case.
Sam Johnstone was hoping for renewal when he took a job at a boutique law firm in rustic Wyoming. The mountains and streams of the west would be a refreshing, quiet place to start over after years of war and turmoil in his personal life.
But after a local woman is brutally murdered, Sam realizes that things aren’t so quiet in this rural American town. The accused is one Tommy Olsen, a known delinquent who had been sleeping with the victim. Sam is repulsed by the crime and wants nothing to do with the case, but meets with Tommy to make sure he has legal representation.
Yet things are not as they seem.
What begins as a cut-and-dry case becomes infinitely more complicated as new facts are uncovered, and Sam agrees to serve as Tommy’s defense attorney.
With the killer’s identity still unknown, Sam is enveloped in the small-town politics and courtroom drama of a murder investigation that keeps getting more shocking.
But if Sam can’t uncover the truth, an innocent man might be punished…while the real killer watches from the shadows.