James Korsmo's Reviews > The Appeal

The Appeal by John Grisham
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Aug 03, 11


Grisham hits with another enjoyable read. In The Appeal, Krane Chemical, a chemical firm that has been illegally dumping carcinogenic chemicals near the small town of Bowmore, Mississippi, is on the hook for millions of dollars because of its pollution. The book opens with the the conclusion of the trial, and the huge verdict against Krane. And that is only the beginning of the action. The real story is what happens next: the appeal.

Carl Trudeau, the majority owner of Krane Chemical, takes a huge hit in the stock market because of the negative verdict. In order to save his company from huge liabilities in the Bowmore case, and in hundreds of others like it, Trudeau recruits a secret firm to get a corporation-friendly judge elected to the Mississippi Supreme Court in the fall, tipping the balance of power on the court and making it likely that the decision will be reversed on appeal in the name of "lawsuit reform."

Ron Fisk is that candidate, though he doesn't know it. He is recruited by a high-powered group of supporters to run for the Supreme Court. He knows there are a lot of people behind his candidacy, but he has no idea that it is primarily being funded by Carl Trudeau, in hopes of essentially buying a seat and securing a verdict. Fisk will be running against Justice Sheila McCarthy, a centrist justice who is coming up for reelection. The Fisk campaign gets everything ready, including its huge fund-raising machine, but doesn't announce until shortly before the deadline, leaving McCarthy surprised and mostly without cash or a plan for a campaign. The Fisk campaign quickly pounces on her record and saturates the market with negative advertisements characterizing her as a liberal justice. Barrie Rinehart, the mastermind behind the Fisk campaign, also arranges for a gay couple from Illinois to move down to Mississippi and try to get married, injecting gay marriage as an issue into the campaign as well.

Sheila McCarthy, after a slow start, raises some support, primarily from trial lawyers, and gets her own campaign moving. But she is no match for Fisk and all of the money that pours into his campaign, and she is narrowly defeated. Fisk assumes a seat on the Supreme Court, and it is immediately obvious that he is living up to his pro-business billing. But as the time to decide the Krane Chemical appeal approaches, Fisk's son is injured by a line drive in a little-league baseball game, and the bat that was used was illegal. As his son clings to life, Ron comes to realize that the manufacturer of the bat should hold some liability for making the faulty and dangerous equipment, and this begins a shift in his judicial philosophy toward more compassion for the victims. But when the time for the Krane decision arrives, he reluctantly sides with the chemical company none the less, ending hope in Bowmore for cleanup and compensation for all of the toxic dumping and the resulting sickness.

I think Grisham has achieved a great blend of readability and enjoyment, together with thoughtful fiction. He certainly makes me think twice about the process of electing judges. This book is another good read, with believable characters and always-interesting legal plot twists.
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