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25 October 2014

John Grisham: Gray Mountain

Classic Grisham Legal Thriller
Gray Mountain in the Appalachian Mountains no longer exists. The pristine forests have gone, the rock blasted and bulldozed into the valleys, and the coal seams have been harvested. All that is left is a barren wilderness as Big Coal goes after profits. This is the theme of John Grisham's latest legal thriller.

Grisham returns to the kind of legal thriller that made him famous, this time  about a young, resourceful but inexperienced female lawyer who uncovers secrets that have been hidden or protected for years. He introduces us to Samantha Kofer, an up-and-coming lawyer for one of the biggest law firms in NYC, working exhaustingly long hours on boring contractual issues as an apprenticeship to a partnership that would deliver her a world of privilege and wealth.

It is the time of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and the closing down of the credit markets that thunders through the top firms in NYC. Samantha's work on real estate construction contracts for major buildings disappears overnight and with it her job. Her only hope of possibly retaining her job when things get better and maintain her health benefits is to take a job with a nonprofit organisation, possibly for a year or so. This takes her to the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in the heart of Appalachia to meet Mattie Wyatt who has been providing free legal aid in the area for years.

Samantha is immediately taken from her comfort zone as a cog in a huge legal firm and thrown into direct contact with disadvantaged people needing help with all kinds of genuine personal problems. This means not only doing things she has never done before but facing up to litigation in the courts which was also never part of her career path. It also means living in a small remote community, so different from the bustle of NYC that was once her home.

Before she realises it she is thrown into the world of Big Coal which has made enormous impacts on the environment through the demolition of magnificent wilderness mountains through open cut strip mining. She soon finds how the powerful world of Big Coal also has had a pervasive influence on the health of the miners and the community. Samantha quickly learns the dangers of dealing with the all powerful coal companies as her investigations and resourcefulness leads her deeper into this unsavoury world, and she discovers secrets that have remained buried deep in the mountains which put her in peril.

She is introduced to these issues by enigmatic Jason Donovan, a local lawyer whose family home was on Gray Mountain with a personal crusade taking on big coal companies about the damage that they have made to the local environment of the Appalachian Mountains and the community. While she finds him charming and exciting, her initial reaction is that he is nothing but trouble in more ways than one.

Samantha gradually faces up to a legal world where the welfare of clients comes first and billable hours last and a community that needs her. Her character seems to be set up for a return in future books which will be worth waiting for.

I haven't read John Grisham's books for a while and am glad that I returned to a book that goes back to Grisham's classic issue based legal fiction genre with its fast pace, great characters and twists, and turns. I got absorbed and concerned when reading this book - that is my greatest recommendation.

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