The year is 2008 and Samantha Kofer’s career at a huge Wall Street law firm is on the fast track—until the recession hits and she gets downsized, furloughed, escorted out of the building. Samantha, though, is one of the “lucky” associates. She’s offered an opportunity to work at a legal aid clinic for one year without pay, after which there would be a slim chance that she’d get her old job back. In a matter of days Samantha moves from Manhattan to Brady, Virginia, population 2,200, in the heart of Appalachia, a part of the world she has only read about. Mattie Wyatt, lifelong Brady resident and head of the town’s legal aid clinic, is there to teach her how to “help real people with real problems.” For the first time in her career, Samantha prepares a lawsuit, sees the inside of an actual courtroom, gets scolded by a judge, and receives threats from locals who aren’t so thrilled to have a big-city lawyer in town. And she learns that Brady, like most small towns, harbors some big secrets.
Her new job takes Samantha into the murky and dangerous world of coal mining, where laws are often broken, rules are ignored, regulations are flouted, communities are divided, and the land itself is under attack from Big Coal. Violence is always just around the corner, and within weeks Samantha finds herself engulfed in litigation that turns deadly.
In “Gray Mountain,” mega-selling author John Grisham throws a hardball at the environmental atrocities perpetuated by an industry, “Big Coal,” on one section of our country.
He explores the process of mountaintop removal, currently the most popular method of mining coal in our country, and its disastrous aftermath that not only destroys the land but eventually the water supply, leaving a legacy of death and disease, and points out how Big Coal’s big bucks in the impoverished areas of Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia equal political control (“In West Virginia [even] the Supreme Court is elected.”), neuters environmental regulators and sways popular opinion.
He also exposes the heinous practices of the fellow traveler law firms that fight to keep miners from their rightful medical benefits.
Although this indictment against Big Coal is the predominant theme, Grisham varies his pitches with a generic expose of injustices against the poor everywhere. As a legal aid lawyer, his protagonist deals with a system of court fees and fines that amounts to a modern-day debtor’s prison; unscrupulous debt collectors who use the system to garnish even the poorest worker’s pay; and feuding families, shredded by violence, drugs and greed, that have nowhere else to go.
Tension builds and shots are fired, including the one with which the most realistic character kills himself, but the story ends with less than a bang. Our young lawyer, no longer so naive after her summer internship, decides to stay and fight the good fight with the nice people and for a lot less money (a new series in the works?).
MOVE OVER JAKE BRIGANCE, HERE COMES SAMANTHA KOFER!
In nineteen ninety-three, John Grisham delivers a stunning and suspenseful novel, The Pelican Brief: A Novel, which revolves around the assassination of two Supreme Court justices, and the female protagonist Darby Shaw undeterred by the threats to her life uncovered a deep-rooted presidential conspiracy. Twenty-one years later, Grisham returns with a female protagonist for only the second time in his illustrious career as he crafted another stupefying legal thriller, this time not targeting the highest echelons of government but the deepest pits of the dark and perilous world of coal mining.
Set against the backdrop of the Great Recession of 2008, Gray Mountain by bestselling author John Grisham follows a 29-year-old female Manhattan associate attorney who gets downsized and is forced to leave her Wall Street law firm two weeks after the collapse of Lehman Brothers to work a year in the small-town of Brady, Virginia. Samantha Kofer’s journey from New York’s largest law firm to a small legal aid clinic in the heart of Appalachia with a population of 2200 as an unpaid intern borders on the ludicrous. Yet, that is the only possible route back to her job in the future.
When Samantha meets Mattie Wyatt, her new boss and the head of the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic, she realizes there’s much to learn and that Mattie has a lot to teach her on how to assist people who face genuine problems. It enables her to work on things she had never done during her three-year stay at New York’s Scully & Pershing. Apart from actually preparing a lawsuit, Samantha also gets to work her way around courtrooms, topping it with a tongue-lashing from a judge. Samantha’s work forces her to get deeper into the problems of her clients Taking up cudgels on their behalf, she begins her own investigation to get to the bottom of their stories without ever realizing that in coal country searching for the truth and standing up for it means putting your life on the line. She also stumbles upon secrets that should have remained buried deep in the mountains forever, and the connection between small-town politics and Big Coal. But Samantha is not discouraged by the numerous threats that she received and is taking the fight into the enemy’s camp.