“I want all the boys to sit up straight and notice, and not just my ass.” Yup, there’s a new sheriff in town, and she’s come to bring down Big Coal—and maybe strut her stuff, too.
Grisham (Sycamore Row, 2013, etc.) has long proved himself to be a trustworthy provider of legal thrillers—formulaic, to be sure, and tossed-off, yes, but delivering the goods if you’re not too particular about the niceties of style. He is also uncommonly timely and topical. This book’s no exception: Our heroine is a bright young Ivy Leaguer newly furloughed, in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse, from Big Law up on Wall Street. The deal: The company might call her back in a year if she uses the time to be a do-gooder somewhere in the real world. The real world turns out to be a hardscrabble coal patch in Appalachia, where traditions count, big dogs rule and, as Grisham portentously writes, “there was no hurry in burying the dead.” Not in cold weather, anyway, and the little town where Samantha finds herself is appropriately chilly and gloomy, the kind of place where black lung disease floats in the air along with the bullets from the goon squad. The good guys are few, the bad guys many, and those baddies are busily doing bad things wherever they can: poisoning streams and wells, killing teenage girls with their big trucks, murdering folks who get in their way. Can Samantha save the day? Sure, if she can only disentangle herself from the arms of the requisite dreamboat and the tentacles of the darkly named Krull. Grisham is good as always on matters of legal procedure and local color; as one character notes, sagely, “When you sue a coal company in Appalachia you can’t always count on an unbiased jury.” Still, the reader can’t help but feel that we’ve been here before.
Literary fast food: It’s tasty enough, but it’s probably not so good for you, with or without the lumps of coal.