Wall street millionaire Carl Trudeau purchases an unsuspecting Mississippi State Supreme Court judge candidate when a lower court rules against one of his chemical companies for dumping toxic waste into a small town's water supply causing a cancer cluster.
Some reviewers have critiqued this novel for being too plot driven and for being populated by cardboard characters. I disagree. This is a thriller, folks, not a literary character study. And while many characters are recognizable as white hats or black hats, they are sketched with more depth than the denizens of most thrillers, and their actions are (generally) believable. Carl Trudeau, while over-the-top for sure, is a wickedly entertaining villian. Ron Fisk also stands out as a character who wears a nuanced shade of gray, being a generally likeable guy who gets caught up in circumstances beyond his control.
This novel grabbed me right away and kept me on board with a good blend of pacing, legal intrigue and real-world political commentary. (You need only follow the daily absurdities in our presidential election process to see what lengths campaigns will go to buy votes.) I also loved what Grisham did with the ending, throwing a curve ball that will make many Grisham devotees swing and miss.
All in all, this may be Grisham's best-written, most realistic and politically-astute legal thriller.
While this is the typical cookie cutter Grisham legal thriller, it must be said that this novel is so over the top in its portrayal of conservatives and business that it is borderline dangerous. The strereotypes are offensive. In Grisham's world, there is only snow white, blinding in its purity, or coal black, stunning in its evil. There are no shades of gray, because how entertaining would that be?
Now, as Grisham points out and as many will echo, this is simply a novel consisting of fictitious characters. As such, it is even somewhat entertaining for the five hours it takes to read it. However, when Grisham makes the absurd statement that it is actually believable and based loosely on fact, he reveals his true motivation, an appeal for out and out class warfare.
Only in Grisham's world can business be pilloried for financial support of conservative candidates, while trial lawyers are held up as paragons of virtue for their attempt to buy the same seat on the court. Why? Because the trial lawyers are for the "little people". They don't care about money. In fact, they're willing to go bankrupt in their never ending search for truth, justice and the American way. Please.
In this book, every case before the court is so extreme in their facts, that no reasonable person could fail to feel outrage, so much the better when Grisham's troglodyte conservatives consistently rule in favor of negligent nursing homes, toxic dumpers, child killers and incompetent physicians. All to the benefit of scum in the board rooms and on Wall Street.
Workers of the world, unite! Grab your pitchforks and storm the manor house.
For years, Krane Chemicals polluted the water of a small town in Mississippi with illegal chemical dumping. Now they've been taken to trial in the first of what could be many lawsuits by one of the families in the case and lost--to the tune of $41 million in all. The case is set for appeal and the head of Krane Chemicals decides he wants to stack the deck. He embarks on a campaign to buy a seat on the Mississippi Supreme Court and pad his own net worth.
And that's just the first chapter.
"The Appeal" is a stark warning on the dangers of selecting justices for courts from a system that allows campaign contributions. It warns us about justices out to make laws instead of interpret them, of campaigns run on style over substance and where image is everything. It's a stark, harrowing warning by the current king of the legal thriller and a sobering thought in this election year. Grisham populates his book with a large cast of characters, but it never becomes confusing or unwieldy. The story is compelling, the dilemma fascinating and the warning very real. Grisham entertains and warns without preaching.
P.S. This isn't the first time I've been distracted by the Xanadu actor being the voice of Grisham. It just jumps me out of the action at the strangest times.
Grisham seems to have recovered his ability to write with this book, and although none of the character are particularly well fleshed-out, this is a plot-driven book, and the plot moves along nicely.
I have to say that I wasn't altogether enamored with the ending. As things look worse and worse for the good guys, the plot takes a sharp turn, but not necessarily for the better. The turn itself is unpredictable, and makes the ending even more unpredictable, but I felt that the turn itself came from so far out in left field that it took away from the plot, which, until that point, had been running very smoothly, if somewhat depressingly.
Despite that, this is a good effort by Grisham, and one worth reading if for no other reason that than to read about a fictional, but all too possible and pernicious threat to justice and democracy that is seldom discussed.
It sounds like a fairly routine description of how political machines run elections, and the setting that this is a judicial election doesn't add too much. The twists toward the end was predictable, but not satisfying.
Even though it left me with an even emptier feeling at the end, I loved the Partner much more than this.
The message is good. US corporations have many back side influences. Grisham does an excellent job explaining what the system is and how it's broke, just as he did in his last title, The Innocent Man.
If his fan will tolerate it, I think he will find a way to get his social messages into the novels.
The Appeal is set in Mississippi following a large verdict against a major chemical company that has been accused of dumping toxic waste. The toxic waste has affected the local water supply causing Bowmore, Mississippi to be cruelly referred to as Cancer County due to the unusual high number of cancer cases in the region. The appeal, which then follows, sets into motion a trail of propaganda, underhand campaigns and dirty tricks that puts the verdict in jeopardy.
With his novel, Grisham, has obviously set out to highlight the role of politics and big company money that plagues parts of the judicial system and this he has done well. He is also careful to point out at the end of the novel that The Appeal is just that – a work of fiction - but one that reflects current practice and tactics in many locations throughout the world.
The detail outlined on the governmental campaign, one of the main focuses of the novel, encourages readers to re-examine the electoral processes happening around them. In addition, the wide range of tactics used by the big money companies to save stock prices and limit the amount of damages paid in cases where they have been found liable is at the very least surprising and in many instances shocking. Overall I was left waiting for the true shock and excitement to get started, which just never seemed to arrive.