Wednesday, October 29, 2014

'Gray Mountain' by John Grisham

I’ll admit that I was a little apprehensive about this book when I heard that John Grisham was penning a female lead. Not because it was a female lead, but because he was SPECIFICALLY writing for a female lead. It seemed that instead of penning the damn story and letting the characters reveal themselves, he was trying to appease the spineless “everything must be equal” PC crowd. I don’t mind have a female as a lead character, but if it is meant to be then it will be. Don’t force it. The last time Grisham set out to base a book on a specific character was ‘The Racketeer’ and, in my humble opinion, that book was just… ‘good’.

So I started this book with a bit of trepidation because I didn’t want it to be a book written to appease a certain group. Happily it was not. ‘Gray Mountain’ was a book that I thoroughly enjoyed from a man whom I enjoy reading. 60% legal thriller, 40% thriller-thriller. That means this book had the classic Grisham legal dance, but there was also a lot of action that took place in the wild. The wild in this case being Appalachia. A beautiful and pristine part of the Eastern United States. Well… parts of it are beautiful and pristine. Other parts are… well… not much. The reasons why fuel the conflict wages within these pages.

The coal companies have wages war on this land and the casualties are wide and plenty. Man, beast, land, air, and water have all felt the shame of being stripped, spread eagle, and violated all with the blessing of those meant to protect them. Now if you feel that last sentence was coarse you aren’t ready for this book. Grisham holds back nothing when it comes to describing the rape of the land by the coal companies. Nothing. Now I’m no tree hugger by a long shot. I think there are few things better than getting in a Jeep, finding an off-road trail, watching your passengers boobies jiggle, while having a good time. But any Jeeper will tell you (the responsible ones anyway) to ALWAYS “Jeep responsibly.” Have fun but don’t destroy the damn place.

Apparently the coal companies didn’t get that memo. Or maybe they did get it and summarily ignored it like they have everything else having to do with the law, regulations, codes, or ethics. This fight over coal has been going on for a long time and our girl, Samantha Kofer, is about to go in. Samantha is a New York lawyer who has lived the good life since she was born. The product of two very ambitious parents who worked extremely hard and brought in a lot of money. It was interesting to watch Grisham write about her mom and dad. Workaholics that were neither negligent or attentive. I actually liked reading about the relationship Samantha had with her father. Interesting man with an entertaining life. Anyway…

Samantha loses her $100,000+ a year (not including bonuses) job and is given the choice to work a year with a non-profit FOR FREE, with the possibility of maybe getting her job back. Unfortunately that possibility is slimmer than Stacey Dash jumping out of my birthday cake this year. She lands in Brady, Virginia a town with a population of 2,200 that is host to some of the most beautiful country this side of Eden. Coming from a background of D.C. and New York, Samantha not only experiences a culture shock, but a work shock as well. No longer dealing with the piles of paperwork that come from her job in big-law, she must immerses herself amongst everyday people who have everyday problems.

She’s not snobby, just privileged. And in the course of learning new positions, new clients, new first world problems, and new cases she finds herself learning about the dark (hahahaha) world of coal. A classic case of catch-22. The coal companies bring in steady work and tons of money to the poor parts of the world. Life is good is only getting better. Unfortunately the bad side is bad. Dangerous working conditions, long hours, long term medical problems, and the worst of all, complete decimation of the surrounding environment.

Samantha’s new employers have been veteran’s in this fight for a while but welcome an extra hand. Enter Donovan. Donovan is the catalyst for some much needed sexual tension, but it doesn’t turn out quite like you would expect. You see, Donovan is a quite the litigious rockstar with the locals yet quite the pariah with the local coal consortium. He’s a fighter but he doesn’t fight clean. By his logic if the coal mafia aren’t going to play by the rules, then neither will he. And while he might not have the typical groupies of a rockstar, he does stir passion with certain women. That sub-plot was fun. And like I said, it turns out like you wouldn’t expect and THAT was quite the twist.

The ongoing litigation exposes a lot of the casualties of this war and they are not pretty. Grisham’s storytelling here is blunt as well. He delves into the medical history of the coal miners, their painful lives, their senseless deaths, the impact on the families, and the cruel aloofness and villainous acts of the coal companies. It may seem that reading about a fired lawyer taking on a coal company in the mountains of Appalachia may seem a bit boring. Motions, briefs, objections, judges, paperwork, billable hours, non-billable hours, clerks, and courtrooms all sound like the start of a snooze lecture for ‘Law 101’. Not so here. I finished this book in quick order for good reason. It’s Grisham telling a story, and I will never pass that up. While not being a heavyweight like ‘Sycamore Row’ (holy cow!) ‘Gray Mountain’ is a solid addition to the living storyteller legend that is John Grisham.


  1. I enjoyed this review. It is thorough and made me want to read Grisham again.

  2. Gray Mountain has all of the characteristics of a Grisham classic with its pacing, twists, and turns. The novel does not disappoint. It is a genre that has worked well for Grisham, and is shows true here.

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