Review: GRAY MOUNTAIN by John Grisham (Doubleday/Hodder)

Grisham-GrayMountainUSAn important and interesting topic, but lacklustre storytelling

The year is 2008 and Samantha Kofer’s career at a huge Wall Street law firm is on the fast track — until the recession hits and she gets downsized, furloughed, escorted out of the building. Samantha, though, is one of the “lucky” associates. She’s offered an opportunity to work at a legal aid clinic for one year without pay, after which there would be a slim chance that she’d get her old job back.

In a matter of days Samantha moves from Manhattan to Brady, Virginia, population 2,200, in the heart of Appalachia, a part of the world she has only read about. Mattie Wyatt, lifelong Brady resident and head of the town’s legal aid clinic, is there to teach her how to “help real people with real problems.” For the first time in her career, Samantha prepares a lawsuit, sees the inside of an actual courtroom, gets scolded by a judge, and receives threats from locals who aren’t so thrilled to have a big-city lawyer in town. And she learns that Brady, like most small towns, harbors some big secrets.

Her new job takes Samantha into the murky and dangerous world of coal mining, where laws are often broken, rules are ignored, regulations are flouted, communities are divided, and the land itself is under attack from Big Coal. Violence is always just around the corner, and within weeks Samantha finds herself engulfed in litigation that turns deadly.

I’m a fan of Grisham’s novels — I’ve spent many a pleasant summer or winter binge-reading his novels, and I’ve always been among the eager readers awaiting his latest novel. That’s not to say I love them all; there have been a couple that failed to engage me. The Street Lawyer, for example, which I’ve started about three times, but never finished. A Time To Kill, which was a perfect example of a debut author over-writing and info-dumping their way through an otherwise good story, ruining it in the process (it does not surprise me that it failed to get much traction when first published) — Grisham provided all the details, swamping the story with his desire to include all the legal minutiae. Gray Mountain walks a line somewhere between these two examples. Continue reading

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