My last two reads have both been legal tales, totally unplanned on my part, but rather the
result of previously placed holds coming through in quick succession. First, I read John Grisham's GRAY MOUNTAIN, published in 2015 but set in the 2008 recession. Samantha Kofer, a hard-working young lawyer in a huge, cut-throat New York City law firm, is laid-off as the financial down turn spirals. Told that her spot within the company will be held for several months if she finds a suitable charitable position elsewhere in the meantime, Samantha seeks and obtains a position at a small legal aid clinic in coal country. The lonely winding roads and desolate reminders of mountain tops stripped bare are a stark contrast to the bustle of her previous life, but soon Samantha is caught up in the work at the clinic. No big real estate deals here, but rather cases which try to stop the pain of living in Appalachia --- poor people being ripped off by credit collectors, spousal abuse fueled by cheap drug addiction, and the ever present fights for black lung benefits. As each week passes, Samantha learns more and more about the divide betwee n those who continue to see the coal companies as the lifeline to the mountains and those who will do anything to stop the new methods of mining which basically decapitates a mountain top and leaves it scalped and prone to rock slides, erosion, and water pollution.
Commentary I read said this is the first time Grisham has had a female as the lead protagonist. In fact, the whole Virginia mountain legal aid clinic is made up of women, although a male lawyer who
is a vigilante against the coal companies plays a big role in the book. A reader's guide at the end of the book also points out that Grisham gives faces and names to the "little people" in the book, but the large coal companies are only that -- large companies. We do not meet any of the coal company employers or owners. What effect does this have on the book? Is it easier to take sides when a novel is written like this? I must say that GRAY MOUNTAIN left me with many questions about modern mining.
Immediately after finishing GRAY MOUNTAIN, I began LIFE SUPPORT by Robert Whitlow. Publicity for Whitlow always lists him at the Christian fiction version of John Grisham, and I must agree that both are excellent writers of legal fiction. Once again, the protagonist is a young female lawyer who finds herself suddenly unemployed. Alexia Lindale has made quite a name for herself as a divorce lawyer who can calmly advocate for her female clients. That may be why her firm asks her to navigate a dispute between Ezra Richardson, a rich and powerful client of the firms, and his daughter-in-law Rena. Baxter Richardson, Rena's husband and Ezra's son, is on life support after a fall from a cliff. Both Ezra and Rena hold documents which should give each power to make medical decisions for Baxter, but the two have differing opinions about what should be done. Readers will clearly know Rena's motives, but Alexia will not, but soon the interactions between the two women will lead to Alexia being asked to leave her firm. As she begins to navigate a private law practice, Rena becomes one of her first clients and deception abounds. Built into this legal thriller is another layer that makes the novel stand apart. Alexia, a lover of classical music, meets Ted Morgan, a music pastor, at a local church, and she is drawn back again and again to hear him play. As a relationship just begins to sprout between the two, an even greater relationship opens for Alexia. Through music, she feels God's presence for the first time --something her grandmother had always wished for.
This thread which focuses on the divine power of music becomes even more important as Ted is allowed to play for the comatose Baxter.
I must admit that LIFE SUPPORT ended disappointingly for me. I stayed up until 1:00 a.m. to finish the book last night, only to find the book did not really end. I quickly searched and yes, there is a second book. After reading comments about the second book, it appears that it ends with a cliffhanger also, but there is no third book. Right now I am in a bit of a dilemma. I want to know more, especially about Alexia and Ted, but if the second book ends without resolving Rena's guilt do I really want to continue this tale?