Gray Mountain is only the second legal thriller by John Grisham, after The Pelican Brief, which has a female protagonist. Although The Client had a female lawyer, the story was more about the little boy, Mark Sway. Coincidentally, both Pelican Brief and Gray Mountain are stories that revolve around the greed of big corporations and their disregard for the environment.
Samantha Kofer, a third year associate working in ‘Big Law’ in New York, is one of the casualties when her firm starts to downsize following the collapse of Lehman Brothers. She opts for a furlough and gets a place in a legal aid clinic in the ‘coal country’ of the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia. From handling legal paper work for large building corporations, she finds herself in an all women office; dealing hands on with pro bono clients and their problems, and not just legal ones. While there, Samantha gets involved with the Gray brothers’ crusade against rapacious coal corporations who are strip mining the mountains.
LL: It’s the same all over the world isn’t it? The large corporations get away with environmental degradation and causing cancer by buying off regulators and working around the laws.
PS: I found the sludge ponds really frightening! God knows what is happening in the mining areas in India. No one is even writing about it. And we thought that it was only here that people get away with making money out of others’ miseries.
LL: I think John Grisham does a fantastic job of scaring us.
PS: But I somehow doubt that this book will have a Dickensian effect. People are so accepting of the wrongs done to them, with just a few lunatics crying foul.
LL: With such a powerful theme I felt the protagonist was too wishy-washy. Her indecisiveness doesn’t let the reader settle down in the story. She just wasn’t convincing enough about what she was doing.
PS: It keeps coming back to my expectations of a hero. They have to be heroic, at least at some point. What is the fun in reading a story about normal people who muddle through life without any conviction and cases which go nowhere? But that is only our view as readers. Being lawyers we can sort of understand that a lot of things happen in parallel and they don’t all necessarily reach a satisfactory conclusion.
LL: And a young lawyer cannot always be resolute.
PS: But as a reader I much prefer the character of Donovan Gray, the small town lawyer who is scaring the big guys. Although it’s not common legal practice for lawyers to go around infiltrating offices and stealing incriminating documents. That is very Bollywoodish!
LL: One gets the impression from John Grisham’s books, and this one merely confirms it, that he feels litigation is the true practice of law. In his view, lawyers working in large firms and doing corporate work are just ‘pencil pushers’.
PS: But, interestingly enough, in a number of his books the lawyer, having become disgusted with his work, gives up practice at the end and goes off to sit on a beach somewhere.
LL: That’s normally the big city lawyers the small town guys happily continue helping people.
PS: John Grisham always describes the small town communities with a lot of affection. The diner where people go for their coffee and gossip, the old office building with its overhanging balcony, the drink and chat with colleagues after work hours…
LL: And don’t forget, the lady lawyer whose husband cooks fabulous dinners while she brings the colleagues home from work!
PS: On the flip side the small town lawyers end up getting enmeshed in their client’s lives and they are unable to tear themselves away emotionally. This of course never happens in corporate practice.
LL: But John Grisham does not seem to think that this is such a bad thing, although most lawyers will disagree. After all emotions interfere with billing and, as the world knows, for lawyers that’s what matters.
PS: On the whole though, Gray Mountain is an engrossing story, with a not so engrossing protagonist. But why are there so many conversations about sex? It’s never been as much a part of the characters’ thought processes in Grisham’s previous books.
LL: Maybe it is something to do with the word ‘Gray’ or ‘Grey’ in the title of the book. Makes people go off on a different track!