“Who are they? They are the bad guys, and there are so many of them.”

grayBrown Baggers met on October 20 to discuss John Grisham’s 2014 novel Gray Mountain. This book focuses on the practice of coal mining – especially strip mining – in the Appalachian Mountains. Set in Grady, Virginia, in 2008 it follows main character Samantha as she discovers the beaten down life of residents, the negative environmental changes,  and the shady business practices by big coal companies.

Readers had mixed reviews to this book but most agreed it was predictable. They were glad to see the inclusion of the issues surrounding coal mining, whose treatment Grisham gives a heavy hand. Many readers had lived in or had ties to coal country or other industrial areas of the country where lax regulations and industry power has hurt the residents, the environment, and the job market. For those unaware of the havoc coal mining can wreak on a community and its surroundings, this was an informative read. Both groups of readers appreciated Grisham’s attempt to focus the spotlight on this issue.

While many supporting characters we less well-defined, we got the most exposure to protagonist Samantha. Readers agreed that she showed growth as the book progressed – mostly as a result of finally experiencing something outside her privileged upbringing and comfort zone and finding out how nice it felt to help others. Readers appreciated the ethical dilemma Grisham gave her character and felt it was illustrative of issues lawyers regularly face. Some felt the narrative of Samantha’s isolation, both in bustling New York City as well in sleepy, rural Virginia, was very relatable.

More information
Author interview video with Amazon
Author interview with The Telegraph
Coal in the news

Other Grisham Reads 
Sycamore Row – a sequel to A Time to Kill
A Painted House – a semi-autobiographical novel about his southern boyhood
The Street Lawyer – a novel that handles its subject (homelessness) equally heavily
Theodore Boone series – novels for younger readers

Other Titles Mentioned
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – about ecological challenges facing Monarch butterflies
The Price of Justice by Laurence Leamer – about big coal prosecution
Matewan movie

Brown Baggers will meet again on November 17 to discuss Louise Erdrich’s Round House.


  1. I was disappointed in the book as a whole. The only other Grisham book I have read is “The Painted House,” which I thought was very good. This book just seemed like a “big coal” exposé which makes me wonder what was the purpose in writing this book. The only surprise in the story was when Donovan dies. Otherwise, it was too predictable. Another thing with me is that I like to be challenged by the writing. This book seems to have been written on maybe a 6th grade level and there was not a singe word for me to look up in the dictionary! It’s probably best that I missed the discussion. See you at Champion.
    Barb Holman

    • Yes, we discussed how it was kind of light reading, but how sometimes that can be a nice break from more serious literary reading. And we did all agree it was mostly about the message and that hurt the development of characters and story. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s