About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Gray Mountain by John Grisham

Gray Mountain by John Grisham – My annual Grisham legal mystery flowed just as smoothly as the previous 21 books. I started the book Friday morning and was done Sunday evening. The book is a variation on a theme Grisham has used in other books. A lawyer in a big city big time law firm leaves the soulless mega firm for a different life in the law.

Unlike many of his contemporary mysteries Grisham goes back to 2008 for Gray Mountain. 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 world’s 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 poverty.

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.

It is an interesting, not great Grisham book, until ……….. To say more would spoil the book. I did not see the twist coming. Grisham does not often insert a dramatic change. It works brilliantly in Gray Mountain.

Big coal and poor people make for uneven fights unless the poor have a good lawyer. Does Sam want to join the fight?


  1. Oh, Bill, this does sound like a fine read. And Grisham is very good at those twists. Your description of Brady reminds me of Julia Keller's Bitter River, in which Belfa 'Bell' Elkins works as the prosecuting attorney for Raythune County, West Virginia. That one's not a legal novel (or a civil case novel) in the sense that the Grisham is, but they feature similar kinds of characters. Glad you enjoyed this Grisham outing.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. Bitter River sounds like a good book. Life is hard in the mountains of southwestern Virginia.

  2. I got several Grisham books at the book sale and plan to read some of them in 2015. After that, I will put this one on my list. It sounds very interesting.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. Grisham is addictive. With your southern heritage I would be interested in your perspective of Gray Mountain.

  3. Bill, I finished reading this novel a couple of weeks ago and planned to review it sometime this month. I liked the way John Grisham handled the real-life issue of surface or strip mining in the impoverished Appalachia mountains and its catastrophic impact on the poor inhabitants of the region. The subject was too close to reality, or for comfort, as evident from the vast documentation of the issue on the internet. I particularly liked the character of Samantha Kofer vis-à-vis her sense of realism and her misgivings about staying put in lifeless Brady or getting too involved in sensitive and controversial trial cases involving powerful coal companies and law firms. She does not pretend to be a good samaritan and earn a halo by fighting for the underprivileged. On the whole, I agree, GRAY MOUNTAIN is an interesting book but not a great book.

    1. Prashant: Thanks for the comment. I expect there will be dreadful long term consequences of the strip mountain mining.

      Living in a city of 6,000 and have grown up near a hamlet of just over 100 I will disagree on Brady being "lifeless". There are all sorts of activities in and around small towns. They do not involve big clubs, major stage shows and professional sporting events. They will involve doing things with your friends and neighbours.

    2. Bill, thanks for your response. I referred to "lifeless" from the character's point of view. She doesn't seem particularly enamoured with Brady and dreams of going back to New York/Manhattan where she lived and worked. Personally, I find small towns and cities most charming having spent my own childhood in a town. I often dream of settling down in one.

    3. Prashant: Thanks for the further comment. I am glad to live in a community of 6,000.

  4. I've never read any Grisham. Interesting that he's a writer who, for you, you can read over a week-end. I have a couple of authors like that. Jonathan Kellerman springs to mind.

    1. Sarah: Thanks for the comment. I suggest you try one of Grisham's legal mysteries. My favourites are those set in the Deep South. Not many authors draw me along like Grisham. As you mention not reading Grisham I have not read Jonathan Kellerman. I read several of Faye Kellerman's books.

  5. Interesting - I've read a few Grishams, and I like the premise of this one. I shall bear it in mind if I feel like a legal thriller.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I expect the pages will keep turning if you start.

  6. I enjoyed this book a lot, although it was rather slow for awhile. And while I thought Sycamore Row was a brilliant book, I think Gray Mountain is a good one. And since it's been on the New York Times bestseller list since it came out, I'm hoping people are not only enjoying it but learning something about Big Coal and Big Law.

    I think of myself as savvy about Big Coal's maneuvers, but even I was shocked at their dealings with miners with Black Lung Disease. It's worth reading just to learn about that, although it is maddening.

    And I knew Samantha was going in the right direction as the end neared.

    I loved the women characters in the law office, especially the one who runs the whole place. She is a great character, smart, humanitarian, sympathetic, hard-working, not motivated by money, but a real do-gooder in the best sense of the word.

    I'm not sure what you are referring to as the great twist, but I think I do. We hope there are sequels, at least one, so we can find out what happened. I have an inkling all is not as it appeared to be.

    I've suggested this book to friends who like it. This is the third woman lawyer Grisham has featured. Readers bring up the Pelican Brief, but there was also Reggie, who starred in The Client, played so well in the movie by Susan Sarandon.

    I'm waiting for the sequel. Hope Grisham is writing it now!

  7. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I knew you liked the book from an earlier comment.

    While Grisham has only two novels with female lawyers being the sole primary lawyer he did have a husband and wife legal duo, Wes and Mary Grace, as leads in The Appeal.

    Do not get your hopes up too high for a sequel to Gray Mountain in Grisham's next book. In a recent interview with the Telegraph from England he said the next book will be "inspired" by the shootings of young blacks by white police and how the justice system in American treats young blacks versus how it handles young whites.

  8. Good. It's quite appropriate that Grisham write about the justice system's different treatment of Black and white youth. That is a huge problem in the States on so many levels. I'm
    glad Grisham is writing about that.

    Maybe some day he'll get back to Appalachia and tell us what happened to various characters first seen in Gray Mountain.

    I look forward to reading his upcoming book. And I hope it's on the best-seller lists for a long time. He can expose a social injustice like few fiction writers can, and in a popular way.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I will be intrigued by whether he ventures into the mid-West for the setting. He has generally been in the South and Eastern states. In Canada the issue would be aboriginal versus white in treatment of young people.