Big Coal: Gray Mountain by John Grisham

In the latest of his numerous legal thrillers set in the American South, John Grisham brings his considerable capacity for anger to bear on Big Coal in Appalachia, zeroing in on the twin tragedies of strip mining and black lung disease. Grisham really, really doesn’t like big companies that ride roughshod over their employees, the communities where they work, and the environment, all for the sake of making a buck, and he likes them even less when their actions are downright illegal.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

The Gray Mountain story is viewed through the eyes of Samantha Kofer, who has suddenly found herself out of a job in New York as a third-year associate with the biggest law firm in the world. Transplanted to Coal Country in Appalachia, Samantha takes up a job as a legal intern with a small-town legal aid service catering to the victims of black lung disease, a methamphetamine epidemic, and the ravages of rural poverty. There, a courageous, risk-taking plaintiff’s attorney named Donovan Gray has made it his life’s work to exact revenge on Big Coal for destroying his childhood home and his family and driving his young mother to suicide.

Gray Mountain by John Grisham ★★★★☆

Gray Mountain is trademark Grisham, with attractive if flawed major characters, corporate wrong-doing on a massive scale, and minor characters tossed about like so much chaff through the machinations of evil corporations and the lackeys who labor in their service as attorneys. The FBI, too, becomes subject to Grisham’s scorn, its agents depicted as “goons” and bullies with little more honor than the corporate attorneys who are the standout bad guys in the story.

Though it’s a compelling read — and a great introduction to the damage done by Big Coal — Gray Mountain is far less satisfying than Grisham’s best work, some of it many years behind him. This latest work reads more like the beginning of a trilogy or a series, ending as it does with less than full resolution of the plot.

However, even Grisham running on three cylinders, or two, is a pleasure. You can see that in my reviews of four of his earlier novels: Sycamore RowThe RacketeerThe Litigators, and The Confession.

This is one of 17 fascinating courtroom dramas.

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