Years ago, well before I began this blog, I read many of John Grisham’s books and loved them. Then, somehow, he went off my radar, but when I saw Gray Mountain on display in the library I remembered how much I used to enjoy his books and borrowed it.
I don’t think he has changed much – this book is just as much a campaign against injustice and the misuse of power, about the good little guys against the big bad guys as his earlier books are. In this case it’s the big coal companies that come under the microscope, companies that are ruining the environment by strip-mining in the Appalachian mountains. I was amazed to read the details – clear-felling the forests, scalping the earth and then blasting away the mountain tops to get at the coal. All the trees, topsoil and rocks are then dumped into the valleys, wiping out the vegetation, wildlife and streams. Gray Mountain is one of the mountains destroyed in this way.
But this is running ahead in the book. It begins in 2008 when Samantha Kofer has lost her job as a highly paid third-year associate with New York’s largest law firm following the bankruptcy of the Lehman Brothers bank. One of the options open to her is to work for free for twelve months as an intern at the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in Brady, Virginia, run by Mattie Wyatt. After that there is the possibility that she could get her old job back.
Up until then Samantha had only worked in corporate law and had never been in a courtroom, but she soon became immersed in a variety of cases, including meths dealers and people suffering from black lung disease.
Gray Mountain is owned by Mattie’s nephew, Donovan Gray, also a lawyer, who is taking on cases against the Big Coal companies. One of the cases involves the Tate family, two little boys who were killed when a boulder from the rock clearance crashed into the trailer where they were sleeping. Although Samantha is horrified by the situation and wants to help Donovan and his brother Jeff in their search for justice, she feels reluctant to get involved as Donovan’s methods are sometimes not strictly legal – and she doesn’t feel she belongs in Brady. And there is still the opportunity for her to work in New York, when a former colleague offers her a job.
But she gets emotionally involved with the people and their problems and begins to like litigation:
This was the rush, the high, the narcotic that pushed trial lawyers to the brink. This was the thrill that Donovan sought when he refused to settle for cash on the table. This was the overdose of testosterone that inspired men like her father to dash around the world chasing cases. (page 197)
She has to decide whether to stay with the Clinic or take the job in New York, and she loves the city life. It’s not an easy decision, and it is not revealed until right at the very end of the book.
Although Gray Mountain doesn’t quite match up to my memories of Grisham’s earlier books, I still enjoyed it. At first I thought he was introducing too much detail about the coal companies’ mining practices, but I soon realised how essential it is to understanding the issues. At times it’s like reading a series of short stories, but the main theme is well maintained. I liked the view of the small town community, the mountain scenery, the legal cases large and small and the tension created by the danger of opposing the big coal companies.
Reading Challenge: Color Coded Reading Challenge, with the word ‘Gray’ in the title and the cover being mainly grey in colour it qualifies for the category a book with ‘Black’or any shade of black in the title/on the cover.