Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Gray Mountain' Is a Satisfying, Old-Fashioned Legal Thriller

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Gray Mountain' Is a Satisfying, Old-Fashioned Legal Thriller

Article excerpt

What began with "A Time to Kill" in the late 1980s has become an annual rite for John Grisham: each new novel signals a time for him to make yet another killing. At this point, Grisham could collect text messages, slap his name on the jacket, and take the top spot on The New York Times best-seller list.

So we should be grateful that Grisham still shows some interest in putting together stories that are topical and move at a swift pace. Some are better than others, but more often than not, he keeps the pages turning.

Which brings us to "Gray Mountain." Or, rather, brings Samantha Kofer to Gray Mountain.

Ms. Kofer, a young lawyer with a promising but uninspiring big- firm job in Manhattan, falls prey to the Great Recession as the novel begins. It's 2008 and she has been furloughed. Her firm, specializing in commercial real estate, offers to keep some of the affected lawyers under contract for a year. The agreement provides health benefits but no pay provided the furloughed lawyer works as an intern for a non-profit. In return, the furloughed lawyers receive health benefits and a chance to win back their full-time jobs in a year.

Neither Samantha nor her co-workers are excited by this less- than-generous offer. She has little in the way of prospects and, with that, Grisham has his novel in motion. Samantha winds up in rural Virginia as an intern at a small-town legal aid clinic.

Grisham being Grisham, the idyllic setting soon proves anything but. Samantha discovers a town and region besieged by Big Coal companies and their cutthroat, high-priced lawyers. Underdogs such as Samantha and a rebellious local counselor, Donovan Gray, give the novel a convenient vehicle for Grisham to detail the horrors of mountaintop coal mining, black lung disease, and corporate lawyers buying off judges.

Nuance is in short supply because nuance is limited in the real- life version of such battles. Grisham finds little cause for optimism in the fight to save Appalachia from environmental degradation. The best hope, the author seems to argue, is for the little guys to score an occasional victory in court to slow down the bad guys.

All of which sounds like a newspaper editorial. …

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