Grisham takes to the mountains to battle Big Coal

A different sort of law thriller from Grisham.

A different sort of law thriller from Grisham.

Sometimes we fall behind, even on our favorite authors, don’t we? And so after I put down Gray Mountain, I wasn’t totally surprised that John Grisham had released this tale centered around a promising young woman attorney who descends from bustling Big Law in New York City to the mysterious and perhaps not-so-sleepy mountains of Virginia two years ago. (I was a bit more taken aback by the presence already of three more titles on his book page on a personal site titled “America’s favorite storyteller, but that’s another story.)

Samantha Kofer is chugging right along, an associate for a huge Wall Street firm — and a daughter of two now-divorced lawyers, mind you — and seemingly on the path to partner if she keeps putting in those ungodly work weeks. Then the financial crisis of the new millenium hits, and she, along with so many other young attorneys in the same boat, are quickly too much salary to keep on. Her branch, though, offers little peace. If she accepts an unpaid internship on a pre-approved list, her health insurance will be kept up for a year, and she’ll be considered for a re-up if the sun starts rising and setting over the skyscrapers again.

Samantha heads to D.C., to visit Dad, now a consultant after spending time in prison for embezzling funds while a high-priced litigator, and Mom, a bigwig for Justice. While measuring their non-tenable suggestions, she’s turned down by all of the non-profits on her firm’s list but one.

Oh, what a one that Legal Clinic in the heart of Appalachia turns out to be, as stricken Samantha learns under the watchful eye of smart Mattie Wyatt, who’s lived in Brady her whole life and loves helping the poor folk struggling to survive as companies do nasty stuff to pull coal from the mountains. Mattie’s nephew, Donovan, fights the coal companies with huge lawsuits, with help from his investigator brother. The companies fight back, with much bigger and powerful resources.

And Samantha finds out much about the area, the people. And herself.

Grisham, of course, still knows the south. His take on the law circles of Manhattan and D.C. make for interesting straws for stirring.

Are you a fan of John Grisham’s fictional law world, and why or why not? If so, what’s your favorite Grisham novel, and why? If you’ve ever visited the Appalachian Mountains, what did you think?

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23 thoughts on “Grisham takes to the mountains to battle Big Coal

  1. I enjoy Grisham’s novels Mark. Thanks for the review. I have visited the Appalachians, and was happy when it was time to go. A bit scary.

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  2. I first discovered The Firm while snowed in in Alabama. Yes, a snowstorm in Alabama, 1993. I read several of his books after that, but that one remains my fave, and I think they did a great job with the movie.
    I’m a big fan of Appalachia. I’ve spent a lot of time there. We have friends, likely distant kin there, and my mother’s father’s family hails from there.

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    • The Firm is a good book, and film, I certainly agree, Joey. That’s a page-turner for a southern surprise snowstorm! Hey, that’s very cool about kin and friends, so you could experience Appalachia firsthand.

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  3. I’ve read all of Grisham’s work. His writing is captivating and the way he developes subjects pulls one right into the story. Gray Mountain is no exception.His books not only expose the “way things are done” but leave one questioning the conditions that prevail as every day in our country. Thought provoking entertainment.

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  4. Haha, so I write Funny Names in the News for the first time in two months, and I’m instantly reminded of John Grisham’s 30-ish novels, and Mark Bialczak’s prolific bloggery. Two gentlemen far more prolific and cool and floating-headed than me! (Or at least one of them’s more floating-headed… Grisham can’t hold up in that department).

    Truth is I’ve never read any Grisham before… though I have read some Crichton and used to confuse the two of them. But maybe when I get through some of these textbooks I’ll pick up a book that’s actually fun to read.

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    • Also, fun fact: Grisham was making rounds in my medical news feeds, with his recent short story “The Tumor” about some futuristic predictions for ultrasound. http://www.fusfoundation.org/read-the-tumor-by-john-grisham

      It’s such a timely piece – ultrasound is making big waves (so to speak) these days because now the machines are smaller, cheaper, and more precise, and ultrasound has always been preferable to other imaging approaches because it uses sound waves rather than any other form of (potentially more dangerous or ionizing) radiation.

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  5. Hi Mark, this is interesting. I am not a Grisham reader but my husband is. I think we have a few books of his around the house some where. However I did read and like the true story, Stand Up That Mountain about a lawyer from Appalachia who saved his local mountain from being topped and stripped for coal, so this is a topic that means a lot to me. I will have to see if Geoff knows about Gray Mountain. Nice post.

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  6. Hey Mark, I love Grisham’s books. Need to read this one. Have been up into Appalachia, my parents said don’t stare at anyone, because it might not end well, but it was really hard to do (not stare) as a kid. There are some very frightening people up there!!!

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  7. ooh, this sounds good. i do love the mix of intrigue, law and politics that run through most of his work. i’ve never been to appalachia, but i would like to visit one day, to experience it for myself. my favorite was ‘the client.’

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