The year is 2008 and Samantha Kofer’s career at a huge Wall Street law firm is on the fast track—until the recession hits and she gets downsized, furloughed, and escorted out of the building. Samantha, though, is one of the “lucky” associates. She’s offered an opportunity to work at a legal aid clinic for one year without pay, after which there would be a slim chance that she’d get her old job back.
In a matter of days Samantha moves from Manhattan to Brady, Virginia, population 2,200, in the heart of Appalachia, a part of the world she has only read about. Mattie Wyatt, lifelong Brady resident and head of the town’s legal aid clinic, is there to teach her how to “help real people with real problems.” For the first time in her career, Samantha prepares a lawsuit, sees the inside of an actual courtroom, gets scolded by a judge, and receives threats from locals who aren’t so thrilled to have a big-city lawyer in town. And she learns that Brady, like most small towns, harbours some big secrets.
Her new job takes Samantha into the murky and dangerous world of coal mining, where laws are often broken, rules are ignored, regulations are flouted, communities are divided, and the land itself is under attack from Big Coal. Violence is always just around the corner, and within weeks Samantha finds herself engulfed in litigation that turns deadly.
Grisham is a master of prose. He can take a mundane story, a successful lawyer losing her job, and turn it into an engaging morality play that balances the usual gender inequalities with his play which is full balance. His heroine, Samantha Kofer is a young lawyer, a minor cog in a giant legal firm, who loses her job due to the economic downturn downsizing. She expects the position she takes on as public defender in a rural backwater social-good firm to be temporary. She lives in a backwoods Virginia community where time has stood still but life goes on. Gender equality comes into play with her wavering morality, likely questioned by old-school adherents. Though she doesn’t sleep around without measure, she does act more like a college male with little regard to morality.
But there is a real story behind the morality play, a good one about the exploitation and victimization of the rural poor in the coal mining regions of Virginia. It’s a classic story of oppressed poor being exploited by big business, Goliath and the small legal firm trying to save them, the Davids coming to their rescue.
A nicely written story, very readable but with no serious depth. Still a worthwhile read.