Gray Mountain – John Grisham

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Gray Mountain was possibly my first Grisham – though I have seen a few of the films.  It tells the story of a young and ambitious New York lawyer who finds herself without a job in the chaos after the collapse of Lehman brothers in 2008.  She is told to take a year’s sabbatical, working pro bono, in order to maintain her pension rights and hopefully return to paid work at a later date.

The plot itself doesn’t have the drama or focus that I imagine exists in books like The Firm, which, at least in the film version, builds to a dramatic climax, a confrontation between good and evil.

Gray Mountain is essentially a series of events that belong together because they all take place in, or relate to, a small Appalachian mining town: the town where the unemployed lawyer chooses to spend her pro bono year.  Grisham uses the book to explore some of the issues related to strip mining, and to the industrial pollution caused by this industry, showing the reader the different ways that international companies carry out their business with scant regard for human health and the environment.  The lawyer is faced with a series of cases that engage with a wide range of issues, meeting different groups and families who have suffered unemployment, industrial injury or exploitation.

Strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains
Strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains

All that might sound a bit boring, but Grisham tells the story with energy and clarity, and introduces a fairly typical range of plot and character devices to keep the reader interested. There are love stories, touching scenes of family devastation, violent thugs engaged by multinational companies (Russian owned!!) and pastoral idylls deep in the Appalachian woods.

As you would expect from John Grisham this is an easy and fairly interesting read – it kept me reading to the end and I was last in the queue of four people in our group who read it during one holiday abroad.  That testifies to Grisham’s rather universal appeal.

I think the reason Grisham perhaps stands apart from other thriller writers is that his books engage with moral issues, and are not just action plots, and that makes them more compelling.  (Remember, my experience is mostly of the film versions.)  This was certainly a good holiday read – recommended as that.

Washington Post Review

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