Samantha Kofer is a third-year-associate at the Scully & Pershing law firm in New York when she's 'furloughed' because of the economy. Advised that she might be rehired after a stint as an unpaid intern Samantha takes a position with Mountain Aid Legal Clinic in Brady, Virginia, an all-women firm. Brady is in coal country, where coal mining provides numerous jobs as well as plenty of work for the free legal clinic. Within days Samantha - a real estate attorney who never litigated a case - is dealing with spousal abuse, check garnishment, and black lung disease - a horrible affliction associated with coal mining.
Samantha becomes friendly with a local attorney, Donovan Gray, whose family owns 'Gray Mountain', a site that's been destroyed by strip mining. As Samantha learns, strip mining - besides devastating the environment - produces cancer-causing sludge and leads to additional deaths from careless practices and reckless driving of coal trucks. One of Donovan's current cases concerns the death of two children when a boulder, pushed off the mountain by miners, rolled down and destroyed their trailer home.
It's almost impossible to win lawsuits against the mining companies because they employ powerful law firms that fight dirty. They also have politicians and judges in their pockets. Donovan does manage to win sometimes, though, because he's willing to fight as dirty as the coal companies. As the story proceeds Donovan plans to file a couple of huge lawsuits against mining companies that would embarass them and potentially net millions of dollars in damages - and he wants Samantha to help him. The coal companies fight back hard, even pulling in the FBI to assist them. But, as it turns out, Samantha has some useful contacts of her own.
The book has a large array of interesting and entertaining characters, including Samantha's parents (both lawyers), her co-workers, and her clients. There's even a spot of romance.
The book makes it clear that the author is appalled by coal company practices. I enjoyed the story and learned a lot about corporate dirty tricks. My biggest criticism is that the book leaves a couple of story lines unresolved and seems unfinished. Still, it's a good story as far as it goes. Grisham fans would probably enjoy the book.