“The Appeal” by John Grisham

Copyright 2008 by Belfry Holdings, Inc. Dell mass market edition, Dec 2008.

Spoiler alert: I am going to give away the ending, so if you want to read the book you had better look away.

If you want a book in which the bad guys win – big time – and the good guys all get screwed – big time – I have just the book for you: The Appeal by John Grisham.

The story centers around a product liability case.  A chemical company dumped carcinogenic chemicals illegally for 20 years.  When the chemicals got into the aquifer and people began dying of cancer, they closed the plant and moved operations to Mexico.  A mom-and-pop legal team sued them on behalf of a client who lost both her husband and her child to cancer.  After a year of litigation that cost the lawyers everything they owned, plus $400K in debt, they won a huge ($42 million) verdict.  But the chemical company – whose CEO was a billionaire – vowed to never pay a cent.  To ensure this, they decided to buy a seat on the Mississippi Supreme Court, a cynical ploy that thrust a backwoods Bible-thumping lawyer into the election, funded with millions from the chemical company, all carefully laundered to keep any hint of the company’s backing away from the press.

Sadly, the cynical ploy worked.  The pawn was elected and he dutifully overturned a series of product liability cases. The $42 million case finally appeared before the court.  They ruled, 5-4 with the new guy casting the deciding vote, to overturn the case.  Result: the rich CEO became even richer, the mom-and-pop lawyers declared bankruptcy and people continued to die because there was no money for a cleanup.

I think Grisham was trying to write a “realistic” story that highlighted the problem with elected judges.  I guess he succeeded. But the result was a very depressing story that I can’t recommend.  If it wasn’t so well written I would give it a 1.

2 out of 10.

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