When The Lehman Brothers bank goes bust in 2008, Manhattan lawyer Samantha Kofer finds herself out of a job, alongside a lot of other lawyers. With a glut of legal talent on the streets and a lack of jobs, she’s forced to take a job in Western Virginia for free, encountering a different world of problems…
In New York, Sam was a proof-reader who worked eighty hours a week, her eye on a nice corner office and a salary in six figures. In Western Virginia, she meets people who need a new will writing, people who have been thrown out of their homes for bad debts, people on Meth with kids. She plays social worker as well as lawyer to a fair few of these clients. And to her surprise, she discovers that actually being a lawyer who helps people has its own rewards.
Plot wise, there’s no actually not that much going on in this book. It’s more like a series of vignettes, strung together to form a novel.
Behind most of these cases is the appalling destruction of Western Virginia by the mining companies. They will come in, strip a mountain – as in tear it down, with all the environmental damage that entails – then move on. The terrible working conditions and the mess they leave behind is not their problem.
The environmental subject is clearly something Grisham feels strongly enough to write a novel about, but the mining-companies-are-awful thing does get wearing after a few hundred pages. Yes, we know, John: mining company bad. Mining company awful. No argument here (I’ve looked on Google Earth). Let’s move on with the story.
There was a semi-feminist feel here as well. Most of the men Sam meets are evil and even the good ones bend and break the law when it suits them. Sam and her all-female team of lawyers are the only morally pure characters in the book, practically the only ones standing in the way of the nasty male miners.
Grisham is fine when he’s working in a courtroom or a corner office. His dialogue is sharp and witty, and his legal knowledge seems outstanding. Unfortunately, his descriptive writing is his weakness. And when he’s telling you how great the unspoiled areas are of West Virginia, he doesn’t immerse you in it. You don’t feel the breeze or smell the trees. In a book with such a heavy outdoor setting, it’s a hindrance.