Are you sitting comfortably? Then Victoria King would like to tell you why you should be rooting for the lawyers who don’t play by the rules in a classic John Grisham legal thriller.
Gray Mountain has all the key players and twists of a classic Grisham: the unconventional lawyer who doesn’t play by the rules, the rookie, keen and nervous but with bags of potential, and the level-headed stalwart – all fighting for justice for genuine people.
Samantha Kofer is a privileged associate at a big New York law firm. She works 100 hours a week on dull real estate contracts and hates it, but she earns mega bucks and looks set to make partner by the age of 35.
Her life plans go awry when Lehman Brothers collapses in the economic crisis of 2008. She loses her job, her financial security and her future; the only compensation is she can retain all of her health benefits and the chance to be rehired – if she interns for a charity or non-profit organisation for a year.
“Grisham’s characters are realistically drawn, but it’s his no-punches-pulled look at the plight of the miners that makes this more than just another novel.”
Despite tough competition, Samantha finds a place and travels to Brady, Virginia, where she’s taken on at the Mountain Aid Clinic by Mattie Wyatt, whose nephew Donovan just happens to be a hotshot activist lawyer, determined to bring down Big Coal.
For this is coal country, and Grisham paints a grim picture of life in small-town Appalachia. The big coal business is strip mining – instead of going underground, the coal companies simply expose seams of coal by removing the top of a mountain, knocking metres off its height without care for the environment or its workers. It’s the rape of the mountains.
Samantha finds there are real people with real issues who need her help. Her first case is an abusive husband, violent, thanks to meth, the drug of choice in this rural backwater. But it all heats up when she takes on her first case of pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung, suffered by miners exposed to dust for many years.
Miners are supposed to be paid compensation but the coal companies don’t shell out easily and the miners have no money for big lawyers, which is where the legal aid clinic steps in. Undeterred by the behaviour of the big law firms to slow the process, Samantha presents her case, sees the inside of a courtroom for the first time and loves it.
Yet her passion is nothing compared that of Donovan, who is working on two major cases with the potential to destroy Big Coal. Grisham’s characters are realistically drawn, but it’s his no-punches-pulled look at the plight of the miners that makes this more than just another novel.
That’s not to say it’s not rollicking storytelling: prepare for a sharp intake of breath moment when tragedy affects one of the major characters.
I was intrigued by the ending of Gray Mountain, which I felt it could have been different. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good; Grisham remains a safe pair of hands. But I was left wanting more. Maybe it’s because Samantha Kofer is a new character for Grisham and she is likely to be back. I, for one, can’t wait.1878 Views
Victoria is working on her first book. She is also a flag-waving survivor of Crohn’s Disease. And she loves a Mr Whippy.