John Grisham Explores New Territory in Gray Mountain

With Gray MountainJohn Grisham’s 27th published novel, the bestselling author once again delivers a book that will surprise and enthrall readers. Not only another gripping legal thriller from the master of the form, Gray Mountain is also, in many ways, a very different book from any that he’s written before. Grisham is exploring new territory, from his characters, to his setting, to the underlying message that grounds the book—and for these three reasons, it is one of the can’t-miss releases of the season.

One of the most memorable of Grisham’s rare female protagonists
In Samantha Kofer, Grisham has created a lead who is as tough, resourceful, and intelligent as those in any of his previous books. Samantha is an ambitious young lawyer who, amid the Great Recession of 2008, must leave the comfort of her Wall Street law firm behind to work pro-bono in a run down legal aid clinic in rural Virginia. Soon after getting her feet wet handling real people instead of reviewing documents, her resolve is tested when she runs afoul of the big coal mining companies in the region, which are systematically destroying the beautiful Appalachian mountains through the practice of Mountain Top Removal. The industry is exploiting not only the land but also the miners themselves, who endure hazardous working conditions in exchange for very little job security.

As he focuses on Samantha’s attempts to help the miners receive a measure of justice, Grisham pays equal attention to her own character development, and we follow along as she matures from a courtroom novice to a warrior for justice working tirelessly on behalf of those who need help, even in the face of grave danger.

A fascinating setting that mixes big city politics with small town life
Though Grisham has explored the stifling confines of a rural setting before in books like A Time to Kill, he’s never mined the disconnect between the big city and the out-country quite as strongly as he does here. Desperate to hang on to some shred of her career as her monied firm sheds lawyers like cat hair, Samantha struggles to adjust as she goes from a fast-paced lifestyle of conspicuous consumption in Manhattan to living in a tiny guest apartment above a garage in the sleepy town of Brady, Virginia. The setting is riddled with poverty the likes of which the privileged protagonist has never before encountered. These dramas are also contrasted with the coal industry, which, in Grisham’s telling, remorselessly milks the unfortunate populace for everything they have to offer and more. The book’s environmental focus provides Grisham the opportunity to flex his descriptive muscles depicting the beautiful surroundings Samantha finds herself falling in love with—an environment that faces destruction if the mining practices she’s railing against continue.

A ripped-from-the-headlines environmental theme
Grisham has written about huge corporations poisoning the land before (The Appeal), but never before has one of his works featured so prominent a theme of environmentalism, lending additional weight to an already enthralling plot. Samantha is chiefly concerned with the health and welfare of her clients, workers who have contracted black lung disease as a result of their time spent inhaling coal dust in the mine and who are unlikely to see a dime of compensation even if they survive to see their claims wend their way through the courts. The novel is also a condemnation of the short-sighted business practices that would destroy the beauty of nature for a quick buck.

In Gray Mountain, Grisham demonstrates an unrivaled ability to surprise readers even as he gives them exactly what they expect: a suspenseful courtroom thriller that will keep them turning pages long into the night.

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