Ok, I know that seems harsh. One star for a John Grisham book? Really? Yep. I very nearly didn’t finish this book. For fans of books like The Firm, Pelican Brief and The Client, stay very far away from this book. This is not the John Grisham that you remember fondly with twisting plots, interesting characters, strong leads and gripping courtroom drama. I found myself not believing that this was the same author. While the research was well done and the subject matter was interesting, the characters were abysmal and the story plodded along and the plot got lost somewhere along the way.
Apparently this was the first time that Mr. Grisham has had a female protagonist. I’m not sure what he thought we would find appealing in Samantha Kofer. She was a paper-pusher in Big Law until the recession hit and she was placed on furlough. Her firm dangled a small thread in front of her. Work as an unpaid intern doing pro-bono work, and maybe in a year we’ll bring you back into the fold of Big Law. Maybe. So, Samantha sends off inquiries to almost a dozen non-profit organizations offering her services. The only person who responds is Mattie Wyatt with a legal-aid clinic deep in Appalachia, a tiny town called Brady, Virginia. Deep in the heart of coal country.
Samantha packs up and moves herself down to Brady, Virginia to begin working “real law” with Mattie. She’s never seen the inside of a courtroom and has never worked for anyone other than big businesses. So she’s in for a real shock when she starts taking cases for domestic violence, unlawful garnishment and black lung. She’s terrified of the courtroom and constantly reminds everyone that she’s not a litigator. Everyone. All the time. I got so tired of her being a wimp that I just wanted to smack her.
The background was actually the best part of the entire book. Not many people know or even care about the miners in Appalachia. They don’t have any idea of the conditions they work in or the effect that mining has on not only the people but on the environment as well. I wish more time had been spent on these cases, the cases of black lung where the coal companies keep these families tied up in litigation for so long that by the time that the cases are settled, the miner is either dead or nearly so by the time benefits are actually paid out. The crooked mining companies and their crooked lawyers. This would have been a much better novel if Mr. Grisham had stuck to the stories surrounding these mining families and their cases big and small. It’s such amazing material that we should have had a huge tort lawsuit bringing down the coal companies. But we didn’t get that.
The main characters are flat, uninspired and in some cases you just don’t care about them at all and they bring nothing to the overall story. I don’t know why some of them were even thrown in there. The romance angle is non-existent with some random sex thrown in for no particular reason. The only interesting characters were the miners and their stories. I can’t stress enough how much I was disappointed in how this material was handled. Too many sub-plots and unnecessary story lines. If he would have kept to the issues of strip mining, black lung and the environmental and economic impact of these crooked mining operations, it would have been an amazing story.
I struggled to finish this book and once again I was incredibly disappointed in the ending. It was like he gave up. There was no conclusion. It was just a sad and depressing book with a semi-Hallmark ending. I absolutely cannot recommend this book to anyone. If you want to read a good courtroom or law drama, stay far away from this one.