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It was released for the Asian market particularly in Indonesia on January 20, 2008 and in the United States on January 29, 2008. It is his first fictional legal thriller since The Broker was published in 2005. The Appeal is Grisham's 21st novel.
Two attorneys, Mary Grace and Wes Payton, have won a $41,000,000 judgment against Krane Chemical for dumping toxic materials into the drinking water of Bowmore, Mississippi, and the evidence is so solid that the verdict is unlikely to be disturbed by the appellate courts. Carl Trudeau, the leader of Krane Chemical, on the other hand, will do whatever is necessary to retain power by winning the appeal, even if it means selling his soul to a corrupt political machine. The book is thought by some to be based on the 2004 judicial election of Brent Benjamin to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
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Brent D. Benjamin is a justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Justice Benjamin hails originally from Marietta, Ohio, but has made residence in West Virginia for the past 20 years. Before his election, he was a principal attorney with Robinson and McElwee, PLLC in Charleston, West Virginia. His 20-year practice at that firm involved general civil litigation in state and federal courts, including toxic torts and complex litigation. His civil rights practice focused on protecting children from physical and sexual abuse. He was elected to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in November 2004 after an expensive campaign against his main opponent, Warren McGraw. Benjamin received 53% of the votes, McGraw received 47%. He began a 12 year term on January 1, 2005. He has practiced in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, and the Kentucky Supreme Court. He is a 1999 graduate of Leadership West Virginia. He is also a current member of the Hocking College Archaeological Mission, and has participated in archaeological excavations in the United States and Egypt. In April 2008, Benjamin cast the deciding vote in a controversial state Supreme Court case that reversed a $50 million verdict against the coal giant Massey Energy. Benjamin refused to recuse himself from the case despite being the beneficiary of more than $3 million in independent campaign expenditures from Massey's chief executive, Don Blankenship. The decision has been widely cited as an example of the perils of judicial elections, in which judges accept campaign donations from citizens who have litigation pending before their courts.
Tom Wolfe's epic 1987 novel, "The Bonfire of the Vanities," unforgettably examined the money grubbing, hypocrisy, and spiritual hollowness of New York City during the 1980s. It mercilessly skewered Reagan-era American values, holding up a mirror that made readers simultaneously nod in self-recognition and flinch in horror. With "The Appeal," a novel that could become its own era-
defining classic, John Grisham holds up that same mirror to our age.
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Like Wolfe, Grisham unfolds his tale of a lawsuit against a chemical company from the perspectives of all involved, from the bereft widow whose husband has died of cancer to the billionaire CEO ruthlessly trying to keep his company in business. His panoramic story is a legal thriller, but its mammoth ambition and unflinching moral outlook enable "The Appeal" to transcend the genre. The setting is Bowmore, Miss., where Krane Chemical Co. has been illegally dumping chemical waste for years. As a result, Bowmore's drinking water has become contaminated, and "the rate of cancer was fifteen times the national average," in a plotline that echoes Jonathan Harr's Woburn-based "A Civil Action." A widow sues Krane in state court and, with the help of a husband-and-wife attorney team, wins a damage award of $41 million. Krane's Manhattan-based CEO, Carl Trudeau, remains defiant: "I swear to you on my mother's grave that not one dime of Krane's money will ever be touched by those ignorant people," he tells his defeated legal team. Krane appeals the initial court decision, and Trudeau decides to secretly invest several million dollars in litigation "insurance": He pays a mysterious consultant named Barry Rinehart to make sure Krane wins its legal appeal. Rinehart tells Trudeau that the elected Mississippi Supreme Court is deeply divided and that one supportive judge would make all the difference - "We target a supreme court justice who is not particularly friendly, and we take him, or her, out of the picture." Rinehart finds a pliable candidate, a clean-cut and church-going attorney named Ron Fisk, then organizes his campaign against an incumbent "liberal judge" named Sheila McCarthy. Needless to say, the campaign is both well funded and filled with dirty tricks. Grisham is clearly fed up with how big money tends to control political races. The long campaign he so engagingly describes is a mixture of character assassination, breathtaking hypocrisy, mudslinging ads, and backroom fraudulence. In other words, Grisham offers a sadly familiar picture of today's political scene. The well-financed Fisk wins a seat on the Mississippi court, and Trudeau celebrates soon after by purchasing a huge yacht and naming it after his trophy wife. Yet Grisham's message isn't that money always prevails over justice, that big corporations will inevitably and continually squash the little guy by whatever immoral means necessary. Something shocking happens to the newly bought supreme court justice at story's end, triggering an epiphany that makes room for optimism. While there's little doubt that Grisham loathes the rampant corruption and plutocracy he describes, he also offers a story that's strangely filled with the possibility of human decency and endurance. There's light shining into this darkness, a slight promise of change based on pure and growing disgust with the status quo. "The Appeal" is an entertaining page-turner that, by showing readers a perversion of the system, yearns for justice. Who knew that the mega-best-selling Grisham wanted to be a moralist, a sort of Old Testament prophet fulminating against our sins? In "The Appeal," he pulls that off beautifully.
JOHN GRISHAM sometimes seems less a literary personality than a force of nature – his books a
showy kind of regularly reoccurring natural phenomenon, a sort of Halley’s comet between hard covers. People who keep track of such things report that Grisham was the bestselling author of the 1990s, when readers bought more than 60 million of his books. He belongs to an elite group of authors who have sold out first printings of 2 million volumes. Grisham remains the only author to have written a novel that topped the bestseller lists for seven consecutive years. In the world of popular fiction, those sorts of numbers not only put you beyond the reach of conventional criticism, but they also obscure any purpose but brute commerce. That’s a shame in Grisham’s case, because no other writer of his popularity is quite so keen-eyed or as fierce a social critic. He’s an idealist but not an optimist; a moralist but not a moralizer. “The Appeal” is his 20th novel, and it’s as angry, dark and urgent a piece of social realism as you’re likely to find on the bestseller lists any time soon. Further, in this presidential election year, it’s a far more blunt, accurate and plain-spoken indictment of our contemporary political system’s real failings than you’re likely to find anywhere on the nonfiction lists. Grisham has set himself an interesting task in “The Appeal” – to simultaneously explore the malevolent influence of moneyed special interests on our electoral system and to rehabilitate the social standing of trial lawyers. The latter may prove a tougher sell than the former. Big business and its allies in the Republican Party have spent decades so successfully vilifying “trial lawyers” as legal vultures and social parasites that the two words virtually have become an epithet. Witness the sniping at Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, a millworker’s son who earned much of his considerable personal fortune trying horrific medical malpractice cases. The fact that nearly every dollar in a trial lawyer’s wallet came from obtaining injured individuals the justice they otherwise would have been denied by our system is somehow lost in all the derisive hooting about expensive haircuts. Not on Grisham, part of whose purpose here is to remind his readers that the trial lawyer’s contingency fee is the poor man’s key to the courthouse – usually the only one. Grisham sets his story in territory he knows well, rural and small-town Mississippi, where he once practiced criminal law, did civil litigation and served as a Democratic representative in the state Legislature. In this case, the setting is a community outside Hattiesburg, where the Krane Chemical plant has been dumping carcinogenic chemicals into the water table for years and lying about it. The water is so toxic that it turns the local baseball diamond brown, and in household after household, people die of cancer. It’s a cluster of disease so striking that a national magazine dubs the area “Cancer County USA.” Krane, however, produces expert after bought-and-paid-for expert to assert that there’s nothing wrong with water so fetid that people no longer use it even to wash. Finally, a local husband-and-wife law firm – Wes and Mary Grace Payton – take the case of a widow who has lost both husband and son to the toxic waste coming out of the tap. The Graces wager everything, including their home, to finance the case. By the time a jury finds in their client’s favor and awards her $41 million, the Graces are living with their two children in a run-down apartment and eating macaroni and cheese for dinner. The verdict represents not only justice for their client but also the fee that will put them back on their feet. There is, however, still the matter of the company’s inevitable appeal. Krane’s biggest stockholder is the predatory New York billionaire Carl Trudeau, who has no intention to slip down the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans. He promises his colleagues that “not one dime of our hard-earned profits will ever get into the hands of those trailer park peasants.” Trudeau quickly resolves that he needs more than just an appeal. For $8 million – chump change where he comes from – the magnate hires a crisis management cum political consulting firm. Why risk an
appeal, he’s advised by a corrupt senator, when he can stack the judicial deck? The Mississippi Supreme Court, which ultimately must hear the case, often splits 5-4 in favor of plaintiffs in similar liability cases. The consultants propose targeting the swing-voting justice in the next election and replacing her with a hand-picked, ideologically reliable jurist. The fact that the justice up for election is a divorcée, Sheila McCarthy, who sometimes dates and is a fair-minded political moderate, makes her an attractive target. By the time the hired consultants finish with her, she’s an irreligious libertine tool of the trial lawyers who hates families and wants to confiscate everybody’s guns. Her opponent, a young, small-town lawyer named Ron Fisk, is a rightwing ideologue comfortable speaking from church pulpits. He coasts to victory. So far, so depressing – if realistic – and then fate intervenes. Fisk, who has sided with the new majority in case after case denying liability verdicts, has the draft opinion striking down the decision in the Krane Chemical case sitting on his desk. It requires only his concurrence to become official. Then, the son on whom he dotes is injured and left permanently impaired by a defective product and a medical error. It’s a transformative experience, but is it enough to overcome ideology and the powerful political alliances that put him on the court? It’s a fascinating narrative, filled with deadly accurate characterizations by an author who knows both the law and politics from the inside. The problem, as with all Grisham’s fiction, is that it’s egregiously written. In fact, from his earliest books, this is a writer who practices what might be called “postliterate fiction,” work that observes none of the conventions of traditional literary narrative. Characters arrive as if spawned from the head of Zeus, fully formed and unchanged by anything that transpires in the course of the story’s unfolding. It is, moreover, a Manichaean universe in which – for example – Trudeau is an unrelieved portrait of contemporary avarice and callous self-regard and the Paytons are models of weary, decent virtue. Meanwhile, pronouns float through his prose with indeterminate antecedents, and the plot clanks from point to point. The influences are to be found not in literature but in the cinema and – more recently – video games. Grisham has spoken on several occasions of his regard for John Steinbeck, but his real novelistic ancestor is Upton Sinclair of “The Jungle” and “Oil!” In other words, “The Appeal” is basically agitprop – agitprop in a couple of good causes, but agitprop nonetheless.
If You Can’t Win the Case, Buy an Election and Get Your Own Judge By JANET MASLIN Published: January 28, 2008 “The Appeal” is John Grisham’s handy primer on a timely subject: how to rig an election. Blow by blow, this not-very-fictitious-sounding novel depicts the tactics by which political candidates either can be propelled or ambushed and their campaigns can be subverted. Since so much of what happens here involves legal maneuvering in Mississippi, as have many of his other books, Mr. Grisham knows just how these games are played. He has sadly little trouble making such dirty tricks sound real.
Building a remarkable degree of suspense into the all too familiar ploys described here, Mr. Grisham delivers his savviest book in years. His extended vacation from hard-hitting fiction is over. However passionately he cared about the nonfiction events he described in “An Innocent Man,” his strong suit remains bluntly manipulative, no-frills storytelling, the kind that brings out his great skill as a puppeteer. It barely matters that the characters in “The Appeal” are essentially stick figures. What works for Mr. Grisham is his patient, lawyerly, inexorable way of dramatizing urgent moral issues.
The jumping-off point for “The Appeal” is that a mom-and-pop law firm wins a big Mississippi verdict, triumphing over a chemical company that has spread carcinogenic pollutants. But this victory could turn out to be hollow, because the deep-pocketed corporate defendant isn’t giving up without a fight. The New York-based Krane Chemical swings into combat mode, first by taking stock of these smalltown lawyers. The mom and pop are Wes and Mary Grace Payton: nice people, good parents, nearly broke. Krane’s stealth envoys quickly determine that it wouldn’t take much to push the Paytons over the edge. But the Paytons themselves are little more than a nuisance to Krane. The precedent created by their case is what matters, and the company’s real objective is to make itself safe from similar attacks in the future. In order to arrange that, Krane needs the Mississippi Supreme Court. Another nuisance: Mississippi Supreme Court justices can’t simply be appointed. They have to be elected. Now the stakes start to ratchet up. So a corrupt senator puts Krane’s greedy billionaire C.E.O., Carl Trudeau, in contact with Troy-Hogan, a mysterious Boca Raton firm that specializes in elections. There is no Troy. There is no Hogan. There is no record of the nature of the business conducted by this privately owned corporation, which is domiciled in Bermuda. For two separate fees, one acknowledged and the other, larger one delivered quietly to an offshore account, Troy-Hogan will do its magic. “When our clients need help,” says Barry Rinehart, Troy-Hogan’s main power player, who radiates the same expensive sartorial confidence that Trudeau does, “we target a Supreme Court justice who is not particularly friendly, and we take him or her out of the picture.” This multipart process involves choosing a victim and creating rival candidates from scratch. Soon the stealth saboteurs have trained their sights on a justice named Sheila McCarthy. She is not a liberal ideologue, but she can be made to sound like one (“a feminist who’s soft on crime”). She’s not an operator or a politician. She is unprepared for a campaign fight. And the only special interest group that ever supported her is suddenly a liability. (Anti-McCarthy mailings will trumpet the question “Why Are the Trial Lawyers Financing Sheila McCarthy?”) As Mr. Grisham points out in one of his book’s many moments of indignation, there’s no need for the architects of a smear campaign to answer such a question. All they have to do is keep on asking it. Meanwhile the covert operators create their own man: Ron Fisk, a political newcomer. “They picked Fisk because he was just old enough to cross their low threshold of legal experience, but still young enough to have ambitions,” the book explains. Fisk is also new enough to be wowed by perks like private jets, which allow him to make so many more campaign stops than his rivals can, and by all the new attention lavished on him by his backers. He barely has time to wonder why they find him so appealing or where all those campaign funds are coming from.
Are the judges in your area appointed or elected? If elected, are you sure that special interests are not manipulating your choices? Those are the questions that John Grisham seeks to answer in his most recent novel, The Appeal. With this book, released in February, Grisham returns to what he does best--courtroom drama--after a brief departure into non-fiction (The Innocent Man) and popular fiction (Playing for Pizza). "CancerCounty" The Appeal tells the story of Cary County, a fictional town located just outside of Hattiesburg,
Mississippi. For years, Krane Chemical was the town's main employer...that is, until Cary County residents started developing cancer at a rate four times the national average. Eventually, the county's drinking water started to smell and became so contaminated that the residents had to use bottled water for everything, even bathing.
Baker vs. Krane Chemical
Jeanette Baker was particularly hard hit. Within the span of two years, she watched her son and then her husband grow ill and die painful deaths. The Hattiesburg husband and wife team of Mary Grace and Wes Patton saw in Ms. Baker the sympathetic defendant that just might be able to sway a jury to rule against Krane Chemical. The Pattons risked everything to handle the case. They moved from their large suburban home to a two-bedroom apartment in town. They put other clients on hold, and they borrowed as much money as they could get their hands on. Expert witnesses and assistants to help track down former Krane employees didn't come cheaply.
As Ms. Baker and the Pattons wait for the appeal of the case's verdict, an appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court, they see circumstances spin out of their control as forces conspire to replace sympathetic justices with pro-corporate ones. If these forces are successful, the Baker case and ones like it will never stand a chance of being upheld.
A Conflict of Interest?
In The Appeal, Grisham shows his skill and insights as an attorney as well as a storyteller. The reader experiences the final days of the three-year lawsuit and the circumstances leading up the verdict's appeal. Although Krane Chemical and Cary County, Mississippi are fictional, there are real life parallels. The question Grisham poses is also a relevant one. Supreme Court justices are elected in a majority of US states and private money is allowed in all of those elections. Is it possible to obtain objective jurists with such a system?
The Appeal by John Grisham
Reviewed by John Dugdale Although the Julia Roberts movie Erin Brockovich is never mentioned, John Grisham’s 20th novel is clearly conceived as a kind of sour sequel to it. In the fact-based film, a likable male-female duo achieves a surprise win in a David v Goliath legal fight with a corporation, proving that contaminated water was the cause of a cluster of devastating illnesses. And that, essentially, is the starting-point here, with the difference that the courtroom victory is won by Wes and Mary Grace Payton, a cash-strapped husband-and-wife team. With the widow of a cancer victim as plaintiff, they demonstrate beyond doubt that a series of deaths in Bowmore, Mississippi was the result of the dumping of toxic waste in the local water supply by a factory owned by Krane
Chemical. The jury’s stunning verdict requires Krane to pay $41m in damages. But this is only the novel’s first chapter, no money can be handed over until the firm’s appeal is heard by the state’s Supreme Court, and Krane’s boss, Carl Trudeau, tells his legal aides: “I swear to you on my mother’s grave that not one dime of Krane money will ever be touched by those ignorant people.” Trudeau’s plan is not to hire better lawyers with stronger arguments – nobody seriously questions Krane’s culpability. It is to unseat a Supreme Court judge so as to swing what is expected to be 5-4 decision. A secretive specialist firm run by Barry Rinehart is hired to target Justice Sheila McCarthy, a divorcee with a middle-of-the-road voting record, who belongs to neither right nor left factions at the court. Lunch in Washing-ton with a venal veteran senator helps persuade Ron Fisk, a clean-cut, churchgoing attorney with no judging experience, to stand against her. Rinehart’s organisation runs an $8m campaign covertly funded by Trudeau centring on aggressive televi-sion ads that absurdly caricature McCarthy as a “raging liberal”, soft on criminals, pro gay marriage and anti business (it also sponsors a zany, boozy third candidate purely for his nuisance value). The election’s outcome is never in doubt, and this is not an isolated case: one character says “the pro-business lobby has slowly, methodically marched across this country and purchased one Supreme Court seat after another”. (Grisham’s afterword interestingly criticises the fact that “private money is allowed in judicial elections”, but does not criticise judicial elections per se.)
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As the campaign unfolds, the novel regularly counterpoints the Paytons and Trudeau: the struggling lawyers still unable to reduce their debts, pay their staff or offer hope to the other local Krane victims who they meet at church; the Wall Street titan already tiring of size-zero Brianna, his latest trophy wife, but relishing a financial scam that enables him actually to profit from his firm’s tumbling share price. Recalling Dickens and other 19th-century fiction, these contrasts between cuddly goodies and cartoon villain are schematic and manipulative. But the author’s contempt for the soulless super-rich, previously evident in The King of Torts, does produce some telling satirical moments, such as the Tom Wolfe-like set-piece scene of a black-tie dinner and art auction in aid of a Manhattan museum where Brianna sits on the board. Trudeau loathes the modern painting that is being auctioned and has never heard of the artist, but nev-erthless pays $18m for it – partly to keep her happy, partly to win a willywaving contest with a business rival. As in this example, the most successful sections of The Appeal tend to resemble well-researched journalism. What makes these passages riveting is the level of detail Grisham incorporates into his depictions of his tycoon’s lifestyle, the senator’s career or how Fisk’s campaign is conducted. But the anger that informs these sections seems to rule out suspense, twists, character development and other novelistic frivolities. It is not that Grisham has forgotten how to tell a story, rather that he has chosen to tell one where the depressing inevitability of the outcome (up to Fisk’s election, at least) is part of the point – outside the movies, he suggests, big business can normally reverse any defeat. The Appeal is a Goliath-beatsDavid tale, and, as such, is an unusually dull read; the first time Grisham has produced a legal thriller without any thrills. The Appeal by John Grisham Century £18.99 pp355
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