Gray Mountain: A Novel

by John Grisham

Hardcover, 2014



"The Great Recession of 2008 left many young professionals out of work. Promising careers were suddenly ended as banks, hedge funds, and law firms engaged in mass lay-offs and brutal belt tightening. Samantha Kofer was a third year associate at Scully & Pershing, New York City's largest law firm. Two weeks after Lehman Brothers collapsed, she lost her job, her security, and her future. A week later she was working as an unpaid intern in a legal aid clinic deep in small town Appalachia. There, for the first time in her career, she was confronted with real clients with real problems. She also stumbled across secrets that should have remained buried deep in the mountains forever" --


(613 ratings; 3.4)

User reviews

LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
I read some reviews of this book that complained about it being an 'issue novel', so I want to start there. In all honesty, those reviews put a bad taste in my mouth--most of them carried the suggestion that the readers didn't want to be bothered with real-world issues or learn anything while they
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read a book. But, to me, one of the best things about fiction is that we can be both learned and entertained at the same time. Do I need to learn anything when I read a book? No. Do I often read books to escape from real life? Of course. But, that doesn't mean that I get upset when an author deals with a real-world issue with nuance and care. Unlike many of the reviewers, I really appreciated the time Grisham put in to explaining strip mining and the surrounding issues. I read books like his because I'm interested in detail, and that's true whether we're talking about a legal case or an environmental issue. I don't want an author to gloss over all of the details so that I just have to trust that the characters are on the side that they say they're on, good or bad, and trust that what they're doing make sense. I want to understand.

Here, the book jacket makes no secret of the fact that coal mining and the surrounding issues are central to the book. And, yes, that's a serious issue--both in relation to health and quality of life, and also in relation to the environment. If you don't want to be confronted with those issues and the surrounding discussions, then this book isn't for you, whether you're a fan of Grisham's other work or not. And that's totally fine. But, what I'd say to those reviewers is that, regardless of the author, it sounds like they just weren't the intended readers for this book.

So, now, back to the book... Grisham's treatment of Appalachia, coal mining, strip mining, and the attendant concerns is nuanced and careful. He doesn't sugarcoat issues or simplify them to a point where they seem as if they could be easily solved, and he brings into play characters who are as believable as they are revealing of the issues at hand. For readers who've visited the areas in the book, there's a lot to be recognized and admired here in the way he offers readers understandings of the setting and the people involved, and the work does a lot to offer a glimpse into spaces that most readers won't ever visit firsthand.

Without a doubt, I would recommend this book. It may not be the average, expected Grisham read, but if you'd like some smart entertainment that at least tries to offer some insight into a real-world issue, it's well worth the time and interest.
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LibraryThing member zmagic69
This was the 2nd book I have read in the last month written by a famous best selling author, that would never have seen the light of day if it had been written by a unknown author. The first one was Revival by Stephen King, and now comes Gray Mountain. Just like the Stephen King book this book was
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over 350 pages of nothing. In some ways this book was worse.
Books by this author are usually good, but this book was a total mess. I should have been known better when I saw it was written by a man, but the narrator of the book and lead character, is a woman. At no time did I find the main character Samantha at all believable. At no time does she act like a woman. The book as far as I can tell is the authors hatred for big coal companies. If you want to skip reading this book but want to know what you will miss if you do, here goes.
1. Coal companies are evil.
2. Coal companies lie cheat and destroy the environment.
3. All coal miners are salt of the earth but are repeatedly screwed over by the coal companies.
4. Coal companies and the law firms that represent them are republicans and of course are hateful greedy scum, who hate miners and the environment.
5. The people living in coal country are sad pathetic people, many of whom are meth addicts, and are exploited by everyone.
What is funny is The government is only slightly mentioned and the author goes out of his way to ignore that most of the government are liberals, who believe government is the answer to all people's problems but can't seem to do anything about big bad coal, and the poor lost people of coal country.
All of this would be alright if the author had bothered to wrap this around a story, but he didn't. The main character Samantha is fresh from being fired after the Wall Street meltdown in fall of 2008. Through completely implausible circumstances she winds up in Virginia working for free at a law clinic. She is such a fish out of water but this couldn't be more predictable and I am sure you can figure out what happens. What doesn't happen is a developing story, and possibly most disappointing of all not real ending to the non story. Overall this was a real disappointment, I get that like most rich authors he is a liberal, but hey next time try actually writing a story, preferably from a male point of view, with believable characters, a plausible storyline, and spend a little less time on your soapbox.
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LibraryThing member FictionZeal
Working for a Wall Street firm meant having it all – making a lot of money and living the dream. But for many during the Wall Street crash of 2008, it was all about to come to an abrupt end. Samantha Kofer was an up and coming attorney in a Wall Street firm. Now she’s out of work but told that
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the firm would keep her under contract for a year. She would not get a paycheck, but hey, she could keep her health benefits and intern (voluntary; no pay) for a qualified nonprofit. She had managed to build up a savings account so she took them up on their offer.

Within a few days, she was moving from Manhattan to mountainous Brady, Virginia in Appalachia. She will work for Mattie Wyatt with Mountain Legal Aid Clinic. She also meets Mattie’s nephew Donovan Gray, a prominent attorney in the region who specializes in going after the coal companies. These companies strip mine the mountains leaving devastation causing families to leave their homes because of blasting, dust, sludge, and flooding. But, fighting these coal companies can prove dangerous. That’s why Donovan carries a weapon.

This is a good premise and I enjoyed the characters of Samantha, Mattie, and Donovan. However, much of the story drags because of too much detail into coal mining and quite a bit of nonessential dialogue. I loved that it was set in Appalachia and Grisham helped us quite well to visualize these people along with their impoverished lifestyle. Out of all of Grisham’s legal thrillers, this one seems to miss the ‘thriller’ part. Rating: 3 out of 5.
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LibraryThing member rglossne
Meh. Too much issue, not enough story. Also, this was an audiobook. I usually love the slightly southern male voice that reads Grisham's work. This story was told by the central character, a woman, so a woman read the book. Perhaps I am not being fair.

However, if true, one thing I learned from the
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book was astonishing, and that was the difficulty, sometimes impossibility, of collecting black lung disease claims. I had no idea.
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LibraryThing member Iambookish
After all these years I still enjoy and lap up any piece of writing Grisham puts forward. This not so sexy topic of strip mining in Virginia wouldn't necessarily be something that would keep me reading, but in his capable hands I found myself reading quickly, and learning a lot about a topic I
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never thought about. I'm sure his exact intentions.
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LibraryThing member Tatoosh
I've read a number of Grisham books but this is the first I just quit part of the way through. I read the first 225 (41%)pages of the 546 page large print edition and finally decided to stop the torture. This is beyond a doubt one of the most boring books I have read. One comes to expect Grisham's
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bashing of BIG LAW (it would be interesting to see if he could write a positive book featuring BIG LAW) but this book read like it was written by a recruiting treatise for the Sierra Club or Conch, Earthjustice, or Sourcewatch. Don't get me wrong; I largely agree with the point of view espoused by those organizations and hammered at relentlessly in this novel, but Grisham's treatment of the issue is incredibly boring. To say the plot is slow moving is like saying stalactites don't happen over night. So far as I can tell, there really is no plot in the first 225 pages, only a series of scenes. No character development is apparent and if the early part is a set-up for something more interesting later on it is a slow tedious process.

In part I suppose Grisham has been failed by his editors. Even "big name" authors need honest feedback and constructive suggestions from editors and how an editor could let this past without pruning the first part of the novel by half is beyond me.
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LibraryThing member rglossne
Meh. Too much issue, not enough story. Also, this was an audiobook. I usually love the slightly southern male voice that reads Grisham's work. This story was told by the central character, a woman, so a woman read the book. Perhaps I am not being fair.

However, if true, one thing I learned from the
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book was astonishing, and that was the difficulty, sometimes impossibility, of collecting black lung disease claims. I had no idea.
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LibraryThing member gaillamontagne
Story of a New York lawyer, Samantha, in 2007 who was laid off after the banks failed. She is offered a deal to keep her benefits and seniority if she would bide her time working as a lawyer Pro Bono for a firm in the Appalachia Mountains. She is exposed to the catastrophic environmental
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repercussions of strip mining on the poor and economically depressed community and particular residents of the area.....I liked the story, but I felt it was really meant to educate the public about the evils of coal mining with no other side to the problem other than jobs. I did not enjoy being indoctrinated; All coal companies are evil money grubbing nasty upside to the situation..... People trapped in life endangering jobs.....caught in the middle of greedy and unscrupulous people and poverty. Well, John Grisham must be on a mission.
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LibraryThing member zhoud2005
Not a typical John Grisham. A little disappointing.
LibraryThing member JoyceMG3
Samantha Kofer loses her job at a big law firm in NYC because of economic problems sweeping the country. In order to keep her insurance, she agrees to work for a non-profit agency for one year, with the hopes of being called back to her job. She finds that it is not an easy task to find work
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because many of the law firms are down sizing and there are many lawyers in the same position. She finally finds an agency in Brady, Virginia, in the heart of Appalachia.
The work is so different from what she is used to. She has to deal with wills, divorces, abuse. black lung disease and coal companies who are destroying the land.
The book deals with issues of big mining companies, the plight of the people who worked for them and the death of someone who was trying to fight for what is right.
John Grisham keeps your interest and brings issues to light in a non-threatening way. A good read.
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LibraryThing member slsmith101
This was a fairly fast paced, enjoyable read, but I felt like it ended too quickly with a lot of loose ends. I hope he is planning to write a sequel.
LibraryThing member levasssp
Like a lot of Grisham books, compelling story that ends with a thud. Usually, the story is enough to make the book worth reading...not in this case. We get it, coal companies destroy the environment.

Litigation attorneys fight for the little people, corporate attorneys are evil, poor coal miners
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are saints and we should feel bad for all people in Appalachia. This book is more of a political piece than an actual story. As mentioned by at least one other reviewed, if the name Grisham wasn't on the cover, it wouldn't get published and the reviews would be scathing.
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LibraryThing member repb
Grisham is off on another rampage; this time against the dastardly coal companies. A bit too obvious which distracts from the story which is mediocre, at best. Our young lawyer heroine is a bit ridiculous and not a very believable character. The ending is a bit odd as well ... as if Grisham wrote
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himself into a corner and didn't know where to go. Not one of his best efforts.
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LibraryThing member 198therese
"murky world of coal mining in the Appalachian region
LibraryThing member labdaddy4
As always a good story from Grisham - well developed characters, interesting plot - but, unlike the majority of his novels this one kind of fell flat with its conclusion - missing was the suspense and twists and turns we normally see. Sycamore Row was head and shoulders above Gray Mountain.

I did
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find the details and depth regarding the coal industry very informative. Obviously, another example of a major American industry taking advantage of it's employees while disregarding it's moral responsibility to be stewards of our environment. Unfortunately, far too typical.
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LibraryThing member rglossne
Meh. Too much issue, not enough story. Also, this was an audiobook. I usually love the slightly southern male voice that reads Grisham's work. This story was told by the central character, a woman, so a woman read the book. Perhaps I am not being fair.

However, if true, one thing I learned from the
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book was astonishing, and that was the difficulty, sometimes impossibility, of collecting black lung disease claims. I had no idea.
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LibraryThing member 2LZ
John Grisham is a remarkable storyteller, and Gray Mountain is no exception except for its ending. I have found lately that many of the books that I have read are absorbing and engaging but have conclusions that fall flat or are very unsatisfying. Such is the case with Gray Mountain.

I didn't find
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Samantha, the main character, particularly likable, but the catastrophes as a result of coal mining, the purposeful illegalities, and the ruthless, maliciousness of wealthy coal mining companies to avoid accepting responsibility and evading restitution was engrossing. The injustices that the victims and the land had to endure were tragic, and the sense of helplessness and fury against the Coal Companies enraging. A book that stirs up all of these emotions needs an ending equally as powerful. For all of its strengths, the ending was bland and unrealistic thus reducing a 4 1/2 star rating for an excellent story down to 3 1/2.

That being said, I wouldn't miss a book that John Grisham writes. His characters are believable and relatable. He can take a well-researched, complicated issue and make it an intelligent, passionate story that's easy to understand.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
Typical Grisham novel. City-slicker girl lawyer without a job winds up in Appalachia, gets involved with local free law clinic, meets guy, guy gets killed, meets guy's brother, guns, romance, poor people, sad stories, and on and on. (Not his best; not his worst)
LibraryThing member tciuffo
Good book but at the end feels like missing something.
LibraryThing member mikedraper
With the financial crisis of 2008, Samantha Kofer gets downsized. However, she is given the chance to return to her Wall Street Firm after working for a non profit.

Her company had a list of companies to choose from and Samantha decides to work for the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic, in Brady, Va.

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type of cases that go through her office is made up of miners who have lost their jobs due to black lung disease and their company refusing their compensation demands. She also works on creating wills and with a woman who was dismissed from her job illegally.

The people in Appalachia are definitely a group that would create sympathy but Samantha seems to be just fulfilling the requirement before she can return to New York and a high income salary. I didn't feel that she was emotionally involved with her clients.

She does meet another attorney who has taken the minor's plight to heart but she doesn't commit to help in the long run. She returns to New York to speak about her old job and speaks to her father in trying to decide her future but I didn't feel an empathy for her or that she had the guts to help those desperately in need.

There were many greedy characters in the book, from debt collectors, to coal mine companies or to FBI agents under the influence of the coal mine companies themselves.

The best part of the novel was the description of what strip mining does to the community, to the natural landscape and to the will to live of some of the depressed former miners.

I'm a fan of Grisham's writing but I expected more from this story.
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LibraryThing member nyiper
Another terrific book by John Grisham---great story and based on so much that is so sad but so true. Now that I've looked at so many of the other reviewers, I just don't understand it. This was typical John Grisham---he writes with passion about an issue that he investigates---which makes for
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perfect novel material---the basics are there, plus the embellishments of a novel.
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LibraryThing member Virginia51
This was a very quick read for a John Grisham book. I had a hard time putting it down and it had twist and turns that I did not expect. I loved the characters in this book. Love the ending.
LibraryThing member dara85
I enjoyed this book. It was interesting learning about the coal industry. This book did not have the usual number of twists and turns as some Grisham books. There is one major bombshell though.
LibraryThing member coffeeNoSugar
“She loved Manhattan and could not imagine living anywhere else, but her world was upside down now, and, well, there was nothing certain in her future.”

Twenty-nine year old Samantha Kofer is an associate at a huge New York law firm. She works 100 hours per week doing grunt work that she hates,
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but she’s earning $180,000 a year and is on track to be a partner by the age of 35, raking in millions. She has an apartment she shares with an associate from another firm and was content with the lifestyle her income afforded her, even if she doesn’t have much free time to enjoy it.

When readers meet Samantha, it’s September 2008 and day ten of the Lehman Brothers crash. Law firms in New York City are in a panic and shedding associates quicker than an Eskimo sheds clothes in the desert. Samantha’s just one of the many associates turned out onto the street, laid off in a city that now offers no prospects of another job. She only has one consolation. If she will agree to intern for a nonprofit agency for a year, she can keep her health benefits and a chance of being rehired by her firm if and when there is a rebound. Samantha bulks at the idea of working for free for an entire year, but soon accepts an internship at the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in Brady, Virginia, right smack dab in the middle of Appalachia.

Samantha’s boss at the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic is Mattie Wyatt, who has kept the clinic running for twenty-six years. Her job at the clinic is to provide legal services to those who come in for help, all of whom are too poor to be able to afford a lawyer on their own. She deals with a variety of cases from an abused wife who wants to escape her abusive, drug dealing husband, an elderly lady who needs Samantha to draft her will, and a man who is dying of black-lung disease and seeks compensation from his employer.

Big Coal is corrupt, and Samantha learns firsthand just how corrupt from her clients, Mattie and Mattie’s nephew, attorney Donovan Gray. The mining companies are not held at all accountable for their actions no matter who or what they hurt. Doctors, lawyers, and politicians testify in favor of Big Coal to protect companies from being forced to compensate employees who suffer from black-lung. Regulations are overlooked in favor of profit, even when two children lose their lives as a result.

Whereas Mattie and Samantha defend the little people whose lives have been destroyed because of Big Coal, Donovan wages a one-man crusade against the Big Coal companies, a crusade that’s sure to win him plenty of high powered enemies. The two big cases he is working on involve strip mining, or the process of removing the top of mountains to mine the seams of coal instead of digging for it. It’s cheaper for coal companies, but it’s deadly to all that lives below the mountain, such as wildlife, streams, and human beings. As the story unfolds, a murder occurs. Samantha must decide if she wants to retreat back home to New York City or stay and fight for the people who need her most.

Many of Grisham’s novels deal with legal and political issues, such as insurance fraud, homelessness, and capital punishment. Grisham as a writer has a certain magic about him, one that allows him to bring serious topics into his books and make readers care about them. The man can create activists out of couch potatoes just by telling a fictional tale. He has done that again with “Gray Mountain”. The story he tells of Big Coal and strip mining will grab your interest, even if neither of those topics have interested you in the past. You’ll turn the pages and keep reading, wanting to know what happens as you begin to hate Big Coal as much as Mattie, Samantha, and Donovan Gray. When you’re finished, you’ll Google strip mining because -- well, Grisham is just that good.

Truth be told, compared to his other novels, the characters in “Gray Mountain” were flimsy cardboard cutouts. We expect vivid characters as much as we expect fascinating storylines from Grisham, and he just doesn’t quite deliver this time. But I’m not sure that even matters. Gray’s Mountain is not thin in the pages at all, and I finished it in less than two days. It’s a great book. Great story. Great writing. Grisham gets the job done again. Four stars.
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
The economy is in free fall. Lehman Bros. is no more. Private homes and commercial properties are going into foreclosure. Loan money has dried up. Jobs are scarce. A large law firm specializing in real estate deals is coming apart at the seams, tossing lawyers out without any preamble, without any
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severance, in order to try to save the firm’s partners and their remaining assets and to prevent their clients from fleeing. Lawyers, once on top of the world, albeit overworked with excessively long work hours, are being escorted out of their offices like criminals.
Samantha was one of those lawyers. A product of good schools, she was right on track for great success until the financial meltdown hit. Her law office offered her only one option. If she worked as an unpaid intern, volunteering for a year while on what they called a furlough, she could keep her health insurance and possibly get her old job back if things got better, at years end. However, even free internships were hard to come by since there were too many lawyers out there looking for a job, paid or unpaid. Her dad offered her a job, but his checkered past in the legal field turned her off, and she refused it. Her mother worked for the Federal Government in the Justice Department and like all Federal employees, her job was secure. The economy’s crisis did not affect her and her view of it was unrealistic.
After many unsuccessful attempts to secure an unpaid internship, she finally got a call to go for an interview in Brady, Virginia, near the Appalachia region, to work for the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic. A woman named Mattie Wyatt runs the office. On her way to this rural area of Vermont, she was pulled over by a cop, arrested for speeding and hauled off to jail. Before she gets to a cell, she is rescued by a lawyer, Donovan Gray, who just happens to be Mattie Wyatt’s nephew. He explains that Romey, the quasi cop, is mentally unstable, has no power to arrest her, and so she is free. She is astonished that he had not been arrested for kidnapping and impersonating an officer. Apparently he has friends in high places. His cousin is the sheriff. She is beginning to learn the lay of the land in small towns.
Coal and Crystal Methamphetamines apparently are the major businesses in the area. Donovan sues the coal companies, and his aunt rescues those in need of free legal services. While Donovan is sometimes reckless, his aunt Mattie is cautious and careful. Mattie offers Samantha the job, she takes it, and soon, she and Donovan develop a kind of friendship, although she does not want to be involved in his law firm and refuses to work for him on the side. He encourages her not to leave town, but to stick around, because it is really a nice place, and he knows she will love Mattie and like the work too. However, it will be quite a change from her Manhattan lifestyle.
The story feels a bit contrived. Samantha’s father and Donovan, coincidentally, both bend the rules of law as they fight big corporations. The big corporations, (airlines are Samantha’s father’s area of expertise and coal is Donovan’s), of course, are the evil doers. The coal industry is portrayed as scheming and manipulative as it willfully, knowingly hides the fact that the industry is endangering the environment and thus the lives of the miners simply because it is cheaper to hide their wrongdoing than own up to it. They consider human lives to be less worthwhile assets than their bankrolls and their reputation which they falsely uphold.
Samantha’s father, Marshall, went after the airline industry with their deep pockets, because of their unethical practices, but in the process, he got himself into deep trouble. Donovan has suffered personally because of the unscrupulous practices of the coal corporations and wants to bring them to justice, but he thinks nothing of being unscrupulous as well, in order to collect evidence. He, too, will get into deep trouble in the process. His brother, Jeff, works with him, as well as an assortment of other odd characters. Donovan is the good, “bad” guy, though, and the coal industry is the villain. Even Marshall’s criminal taint gets fainter when you realize he is performing a service, of sorts, to help those in need of legal advice and support they couldn’t otherwise afford. He helps raise capital to provide groups of lawyers to handle cases that would otherwise not be financially viable to represent. Miners get black lung disease and although they are entitled to benefits, the industry hires powerful and influential lawyers to appeal the decisions handed down when in the favor of the victims. He miners don’t have the wherewithal to fight back. They have no money and really can’t fight back without people like Marshall and Donovan and Donovan’s aunt Mattie to help them. The two sides of the law are contrasted in the book. Some lawyers represent the villains and some represent those injured by them. By the time some cases are solved, the victims are dead.
Progressives will really like this book because blame is squarely placed on big business and monster law firms with nothing to lose but money of which they have plenty. Environmentalists will hail the effort to stop the coal industry from polluting water and abandoning workers they have willfully harmed. Republicans are blamed for the laws that favor business and disfavor and abuse the little guy because the “republicans like coal” and big corporations. They are perceived as being in cahoots with the coal people; whether or not it is a partisan or bipartisan issue is immaterial. The FBI is portrayed as a bureau gone wild with no checks and balances unless they come from higher up, from someone in the government with influence. Corruption, in one form or another, seems to be an acceptable way of life, in most places.
The book is easy to read, great for a beach or day of mindlessness. It does not leave you on the edge of your seat, however, eager to keep reading. There is no real build up of tension. I did not find the characters to be very plausible. I felt no attachment to any of them. They behaved unrealistically and the dialogue was weak and shallow. There were no real relationships to become involved in, and the story seemed to skirt around the edges, never getting too deeply developed. Samantha was the most developed character and she seemed very superficial with values that I could not pin down. She seemed more interested in herself than anything else. Actually, most of the characters seemed driven only by personal needs. Donovan seemed headstrong and untethered to the real rules of engagement as he fought his legal battles. His brother Jeff seemed to be a loose cannon who worshiped Donovan and would do anything for him. Mattie, their aunt, was the most stable character as she seemed to have a genuine purpose in life. While Samantha and Donovan seemed to be driven by personal goals, Mattie seemed to be selfless, putting her own needs last. Donovan and Mattie seemed almost like polar opposites, one reckless, the other cautious, but both seemed driven by a desire for justice and a need to help the little guy who was powerless.
I am already awaiting the made for TV movie or serialized weekly episode, since the book leaves you hanging, wondering about the outcome of the cases that Samantha is working on, wondering if she will remain in Appalachia working to stop the coal industry from abusing the miners and their families, or if she will return to the world of mega corporations and law firms, wondering if she will have romance in her life and with whom, wondering if the thugs will fight back and put her in danger, wondering if she will pursue a career in trial law, handling domestic disputes, wills, and the detritus of everyday life.
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Doubleday (2014), 368 pages

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