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John Grisham, 2014
Knopf Doubleday
384 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780385537148


(1) One day, Samantha Kofer is a promising young lawyer at the Wall Street firm of Scully &
Pershing, making $180,000 a year and looking forward to a partnership. The next day, she is
out. The financial world is crumbling (Lehman Brothers had folded just 10 days before) and
the firm is making major cuts in staff. They will be "furloughed," work a year for a pro bono
law firm with no salary, and if the economy recovers, be hired back a year later. Maybe.
She hates her job, but it is safe and allows her to live comfortably in New York, and while
she is devastated by being fired, she finally decides to see what nonprofits have to offer. The
first firms she calls have already taken on an intern, but she is encouraged by Mattie Wyatt
and her Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in Brady, Va. They operate from an abandoned hardware
store in a town of 2,000 people, providing free legal advice to low income clients. Most of
them have some beef with the biggest employers in Appalachia -- the coal companies.
Mattie takes Samantha on and finds her a place to stay and a chance to do real legal work in
a courtroom, not just research and reading contracts. She meets Mattie's nephew, Donovan
Gray, a lawyer who makes a shaky living suing coal companies. He has been threatened
many times and carries a gun. Most of these companies are engaged in strip mining, and in
Brady, that means "mountaintop removal."
After buying a permit to strip-mine, the company clear-cuts the forest, bulldozes the land
and blasts away the rock that covers the coal. They then break up the coal seams, load the
coal into trucks and move on to the next site, leaving the mountain bare. On top of that, they
wash the coal, creating a black sludge that is dumped into "slurry ponds." The pond
eventually breaks and the sludge runs down the mountain, destroying homes and schools in
its path.
Donovan is devoted to harassing them, which is why he has to carry a gun. He has had many
tragedies in his life. His mother committed suicide when he was 16 and his father
disappeared, but not before selling mining rights to the family land on Gray Mountain to
Vayden Coal. Donovan and his younger brother, Jeff, were raised by other family members.

He grows up, gets married and has children, but his wife can't stand the violence and threats
against him, and leaves him.
Samantha is attracted to Donovan, but his marriage keeps her from getting involved. She
does get involved with Jeff, but he takes risks that frighten her. His brother has stolen some
documents that could threaten the coal interests, and then suddenly, he is dead in a plane
crash. Jeff thinks his plane was tampered with -- that he was murdered and, despite the
dangers, sets put to prove it.
Jeff begins to involve Samantha in his vendetta against the industry, and the other job offers
she has received begin to look a lot more attractive. Her father has been disbarred, but he
runs a firm of disbarred lawyers who specialize in buying into big lawsuits and taking a
share of the profit. It is legal, but makes her uncomfortable. Her old boss at Scully and
Pershing is starting his own firm and makes her a generous offer, but many people want
Samantha to stay in Brady. She is still pondering her choices when Jeff talks her into helping
him in what is clearly an enterprise that could cost them their freedom and quite possibly
their lives.
"Gray Mountain" starts like a typical John Grisham novel and shot to the top of the bestseller list almost immediately. I've read most of his 30-plus books and this is one of the
weakest. He has done a great deal of research into the way these big companies operate and
the tactics they use, so much that the last part of the novel reads like a report. I have no
desire to defend these firms, which may be just as malevolent as he claims they are, but he
seems more interested in condemning them than telling a story. By the time he's made his
case, he's lost me.

(2) The year is 2008 and Samantha Kofers career at a huge Wall Street law firm is on the
fast trackuntil the recession hits and she gets downsized, furloughed, escorted out of the

Samantha, though, is one of the "lucky" associates. Shes offered an opportunity to work at a
legal aid clinic for one year without pay, after which there would be a slim chance that shed
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 towns 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 arent 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.

(3) Gray Mountain by John Grisham begins in the middle of the 2008 recession. Samantha, a
lawyer at a high profile firm, has just been furloughed, along with several other employees.
The firm cant afford to pay them, but they dont want to let them go. Instead, they want the
employees to work for a year at a charity service. Theyll retain their work benefits. After a
year, the firm might be able to find jobs for them. Its risky, but Sam has no other choice but
to take the offer.
Sam reaches out to each of her parents. Her father used to be a famous lawyer, but he was
arrested for committing fraud. This caused Sams mother to break up with him, and things
had always been tense between them. Sam realizes that she hates her job. She works
incredibly long hours and doesnt have any form of a social life. Her bosses dont care about
her, and many of her clients are bad people.
Sam begins to panic about not having a job. She ends up finding a charity in the mountains
of Virginia that could use her. Its a small legal aid firm run by someone named Mattie. Sam
is initially turned off of the idea of practicing law in such a small town. She constantly
reminds them that shes a city girl and shes only around for the year. Despite that, Sam ends
up becoming friends with Mattie and the other lawyer at the firm, Annette. She takes a
liking to her clients as well, enjoying that she can work with small town people that actually
need and appreciate her help.
Through Mattie, Sam also meets Donovan Gray, Matties nephew. Donovan fills Sam in on
the coal mining companies in the mountains. They completely destroy the environment and
take advantage of the miners, forcing them to work until theyre sick. Then, they fire them
without giving them any benefits. They cut corners and let the local water become
contaminated by sludge and runoff. Donovan runs a law firm that challenges the coal mining
companies, making him one of their greatest enemies.
Donovan reveals to Sam that with the help of his brother, Jeff, he was able to acquire
documents from one of the mining companies which details that they knew their mining
was causing sludge to runoff into the water. Donovan intends to sue the company, and he
wants Sam to help him. Sam is hesitant because she doesnt approve of his underhanded
methods. Things take a turn for the worse as Donovan dies in a mysterious plane crash.
Jeff is convinced that the crash was the mining companies' preemptively going after
Donovan, hoping that any evidence might have died with him. Jeff is determined to take up
Donovans fight. He joins forces with one of Donovans lawyer friends, Jarrett London, who
intends to take the case to court, if he can get help from Sams parents. Sam is torn,
especially once she enters into a relationship with Jeff. When the FBI gets involved, Sam
finally has had enough and backs away from the case; but, she still helps Jeff move the
evidence so he and Jarrett can pursue the case on their own.
Sam gets an offer to go back to work in New York with a different firm. Shes tempted to
take it at first, but she changes her mind when she starts to see the effect that shes having

on the small town. Sam decides that shes going to stay in Virginia and work alongside
Mattie for at least the next two years, wanting to finish up all the cases shes currently taken
on and helping all of the clients whom she has met

(4) After a privileged upbringing in Washington D.C., Samantha Kofer has been diligently
toiling away in New York City in corporate real estate for Scully and Pershing, the worlds
largest law firm with 2,000 lawyers in various offices around the globe.

After 3 years of hard work - she billed 3,000 hours in her previous year - she has a
financially comfortable lifestyle, chronic sleep deprivation and six souvenir models of
skyscraper projects upon which she has worked.

However, the financial meltdown after the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market has
left the huge firms in chaos as major clients collapse and the flow of money becomes a
trickle. With little future work and uncertainty whether the world is in recession or
depression drastic cuts are made.

At Scully and Pershing Samantha (Sam to her parents and close friends, Samantha at work
and Sammie to no one) is furloughed for a year. She will receive no pay for 12 months
though her health benefits will continue and, if she works for a non-profit rather than with a
private law firm, she will be re-hired if economic circumstances are more favourable.

Turned down by 10 non-profits who have a surplus of New York lawyers applying for
positions Samantha travels to the small town of Brady, Virginia for an interview with the
Mountain Legal Aid Clinic.

Deep in the mountains of Appalachia the Mountain Clinic is an unconventional legal aid
office in that it handles no criminal law. Privately and modestly funded it provides free
representation for the poor in a variety of areas of civil law.

Big City Sam is alternately charmed and appalled by Brady and its inhabitants. She accepts,
maybe even likes, being called Miss Sam but she is depressed by the deep and pervasive

Coal dominates the economy. The former underground mining has been replaced by surface
mining, a euphemism for slicing the tops of mountains to extract the coal. The massive
amounts of waste soil and rock are dumped into the surrounding valleys.

Black lung disease, formerly associated with underground mining, is surging as miners
breathe in coal dust from the mining and the washing and the transportation of the coal.
Safety regulations mean little to the big coal companies.

Sam meets Donovan Gray, a charismatic trial lawyer tilting at the coal companies in 5
different states for their dangerous practices. He is also young, handsome, charming and
separated. Donovan is an aggressive trial lawyer with a handgun mounted on his dashboard
as he is followed by the thugs of Big Coal.

At the Clinic Sam is swiftly caught up in the challenges faced by the poor, especially in
economically depressed areas.

Phoebe Fanning has been beaten by her husband, player in the local meth industry and a
heavy user of crystal meth. Fearful for her life a restraining order is sought. Sam joins
Annette Brevard from the clinic in court fighting to protect Phoebe.

Mrs. Francine Clump, 80 and ailing, asks for a new will as she does not want her children,
who care little for her, to have her 80 acres. She does not want the land sold to Big Coal and
then ravaged.

Pamela Booker has been fired because of the bookkeeping hassle to her employer from
Pamela being garnisheed for a credit card debt she did not realize still existed. She is living
out of her car with her two young children.

Sam finds life on the front lines of human legal representation more intriguing than the dull
days and nights of document review high above the streets and people of Manhattan.

(5) Book review

Samantha Kofer age 29, Washington native, graduate of Georgetown and Columbia Law
is a third-year associate at a huge New York law firm. She works 100 hours a week, doing
boring chores that she hates, but shes earning $180,000 a year and expects to be a $2
million-a-year partner by age 35.
Or she did expect that, until September 2008, when the economy tanked and panicked law
firms began ridding themselves of associates and partners. We meet Samantha at the
moment day ten after the fall of Lehman Brothers when the ax falls for her, with only
one consolation offered. If laid-off associates will agree to intern with a nonprofit agency,
they can keep their health benefits and will be considered for rehiring if prosperity returns.
Thus it is that Samantha finds herself at the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in tiny Brady, Va., in
the heart of Appalachia.
That opening scene, wherein a world of privilege abruptly vanishes for astonished young
people who have known only success, is startling, but no more than Grishams portrait of
the world of poverty and injustice that Samantha soon enters. The author does justice to the
physical beauty of Appalachia and to the decency of most of its people, but his real subject is
the suffering inflicted on those people by mining companies and politicians who pander to

Samanthas new boss, Mattie Wyatt, has kept the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic alive for 26
years. The first case she assigns to Samantha is that of a woman who needs protection from
a husband who deals in crystal meth and beats her. Then Samantha moves on to her first
black-lung case. If miners can prove theyve been disabled by years of breathing coal dust,
theyre entitled to payments that can reach $1,000 a month. The problem is that Big Coal
employs hordes of lawyers to delay cases until the miner dies or gives up, and the lawyers
are often backed by doctors, prosecutors, judges and regulators who are in bed with the
coal companies. Mattie warns that only 5 percent of miners with black lung receive benefits.
That doesnt stop Samantha from championing one dying miner and learning how
heartbreaking that can be.
Mattie has a nephew, a good-looking young lawyer named Donovan Gray whos pursuing a
one-man crusade against Big Coal. Grisham dramatizes two of his cases in detail. Both
involve the form of strip mining often called mountaintop removal. Its cheaper for mining
companies to remove the tops of mountains hundreds of feet of earth and rock and
mine exposed seams of coal than to dig for it underground. This rape of the mountains does
terrible harm collateral damage, one might say to streams, valleys and human beings
so unlucky as to be below those mountains.
In one of Donovans cases, a bulldozer working atop a mountain dislodged a six-ton boulder
that tumbled down for more than a mile before it crushed a house trailer where two boys
were sleeping. On behalf of the boys parents, Donovan has brought the case to trial and is
asking for an unprecedented judgment of $3 million. The worried coal company, as the trial
nears, offers a $1.5 million settlement, but Donovan against the advice of friends
insists on taking his chances with the jury. Its an agonizing wait for the jurys decision.
In another case, Donovan has obtained stolen, actually documents proving that a
mining company knew that chemicals it used in mountaintop removal have for a decade
been polluting the wells of a small town nearby, giving it one of the highest cancer rates in
America. The documents prove the company made a cold economic decision that fighting
lawsuits would cost less than trying to clean up its lethal mess. Donovan hopes to introduce

the purloined papers in his suit against the company; the company, for its part, has enlisted
a friendly U.S. attorney and the FBI to recover the papers and perhaps prosecute the
crusading lawyer. Samantha, to her horror, finds herself embroiled in this battle.

As Grishams story unfolds, an important figure dies, perhaps murdered. Samantha is
followed by thugs who seek to intimidate her. Undaunted, she finds time for a taste of
romance. We encounter unexpected bits of humor here, of sociology there. Finally, the
question is whether Samantha will return to the glories of New York or stand and fight amid
the hardships of Appalachia.
Grisham makes his characters all too real, but the heart of his story is his relentless case
against Big Coal. We all know something about the plight of miners, but we are unlikely to
have encountered the realities of their lives in the depth provided here. This is muckraking
of a high order. If its possible for a major novelist to shame our increasingly shameless
society, Gray Mountain might do it. This novel, following Sycamore Row (2013), a
searing look at racism in his native Mississippi, shows Grishams work always superior
entertainment evolving into something more serious, more powerful, more worthy of his
exceptional talent.
One hopes Grishams recent, muddled comments on child pornographywont detract from
the achievement of this book. Writers do well to send their well-wrought fictions forth into
the world and leave the temptations of off-the-cuff sermonizing to political candidates and
other desperate characters. The novel will outlive the controversy.

(6) Characters

DONOVAN Gray is on a mission: fighting a one-man battle against Big Coal, and nothing
neither the inherent dangers of the undertaking, nor the strain it has had on his now-failing
marriage is going to force him to back off. A 30-something lawyer pursuing big cases in
the small town of Brady, Virginia, he bends rules, dodges threats, carries a gun, and flies his
own plane, all while crusading against the nasty Appalachian coal companies, one of which
destroyed his family when he was a child. He is fearless, almost reckless, and is probably the
most interesting character in John Grishams new novel, Gray Mountain. He, however, is not
the books protagonist.

Jeff Gray is Donovans younger brother. He shares his siblings tragic history and passion (as
well as his good looks), and even though he isnt a lawyer, he is still determined to help
Donovan bring down the bad guys. He, too, is not the storys lead character.
Mattie Wyatt is Donovan and Jeffs aunt, and helped raise the former after their mothers
death. Her family was also a victim of the mining companies pursuit of profit at the expense
of human lives, and she now heads Bradys Mountain Legal Aid Clinic, providing free legal
help to the downtrodden who come to her with their heartbreaking problems. No, she isnt
the novels central character either.
Marshall Kofer is a former lawyer, disbarred and disgraced for a rather clumsy attempt at
corruption. After being convicted and sent to prison for three years, he has reimagined
himself as a consultant in Alexandria, advising other plaintiffs lawyers on mass tort cases.
But he is always vague with the details and leaves you with the impression that something
shady might be going on behind the scenes. And no, this book isnt about him.
rotagonist is Samantha, a privileged New Yorker who, until recently (before the recession
hit and made her redundant) worked in commercial real estate at the worlds biggest law
firm as a paper pusher. She is Marshall Kofers daughter, and Mattie Wyatts reluctant new
intern, volunteering at the Clinic as part of a furlough deal wherein she has to work without
pay at a non-profit for one year, after which she might get her old job back.
Out of place and out of her depth, at the Clinic Samantha is confronted with real people who
have real problems. She gets to know Donovan and then Jeff, and learns about the havoc
that surface mining is wrecking across the region, how the land and its people are suffering
because of it, and how coal companies are profiteering while dodging their responsibilities.