Bookmarks Issue: 
John Grisham

A-The AppealBowmore, Mississippi, is a small town plagued by an extraordinary number of cancer deaths. When a mom-and-pop law firm led by Wes and Mary Grace Payton wins a $41 million settlement against New York–based Krane Chemical, which has spent decades poisoning Bowmore’s water supply with carcinogenic chemicals, Krane’s corrupt CEO, Carl Trudeau, pledges to do whatever it takes to ensure that Krane wins the case on appeal. Because Mississippi Supreme Court justices are elected rather than appointed, Trudeau and his equally shady cohorts embark on a mudslinging, character-assassinating campaign to replace moderate judge Sheila McCarthy with their own highly sympathetic candidate.
Doubleday. 368 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 0385515049

Boston Globe 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[The Appeal is] a novel that could become its own era-defining classic. … [Grisham’s] panoramic story is a legal thriller, but its mammoth ambition and unflinching moral outlook enable The Appeal to transcend the genre." Chuck Leddy

Pittsburg Post-Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"As usual, Grisham never delves deeply into his characters. But by rolling some of his interests—the law, the court system, his home state of Mississippi, even baseball—all together, Grisham has written his best legal thriller since 2003’s The King of Torts." Barbara Vancheri

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Building a remarkable degree of suspense into the all too familiar ploys described here, Mr. Grisham delivers his savviest book in years. … What works for Mr. Grisham is his patient, lawyerly, inexorable way of dramatizing urgent moral issues." Janet Maslin

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Despite cardboard characters and broad sweeps of malevolent action from Big Business, an affecting moral comes through in The Appeal. It reads like a long, engaging and sad fable." Bethanne Patrick

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"It’s a fascinating narrative, filled with deadly accurate characterizations by an author who knows both the law and politics from the inside. The problem, as with all Grisham’s fiction, is that it’s egregiously written." Tim Rutten

Oregonian 1.5 of 5 Stars
"[A] cartoon filled with one-dimensional characters, predictable language and nary a plot twist. … The Appeal is derivative of Silkwood, Erin Brockovich and any number of stories about plucky idealists and soulless corporations, but it isn’t as interesting as any of them, perhaps because it doesn’t pretend to be anything but fiction." Mike Francis

Critical Summary

John Grisham was reportedly the best-selling author of the 1990s, and The Appeal, his 20th novel, will likely be yet another massive commercial success. Unlike some of his previous legal thrillers, however, this work has managed to garner an impressive amount of critical respect as well. Although a few reviewers found Grisham’s characters one dimensional, his plot hackneyed, and his writing poor, most saw much to admire in the author’s convincing and scathing portrayal of judicial corruption. As the Los Angeles Times opined, "[I]n this presidential election year, [The Appeal is] a far more blunt, accurate and plain-spoken indictment of our contemporary political system’s real failings than you’re likely to find anywhere on the nonfiction lists." The verdict: it’s informative and compelling, but it’s still Grisham.