In The Appeal, we read about the Supreme Court of the State of Mississippi. This is one part of the legal world that Grisham has yet to journey in. What was the result? Well first, a brief summary.
In the introduction, literally the first chapter, we are brought up to speed on an entire case and narrated through it all the way up to the final verdict: A Mississippi jury awards a $41-million verdict against a chemical company accused of dumping waste into a small town's water supply. It appears Goliath--the large company of Krane along with it's intimidating lawyers and billionaire CEO--have lost. While a young woman who has lost a son and a husband (and who otherwise plays virtually no role in this story) is about to walk away with millions with the small help of a small town husband and wife lawyer team. All that stands in the way is an appeal to the state's Supreme Court.
Well, through back channels and other dishonest means, the CEO of Krane--one Carl Trudeau--is presented with an opportunity to manipulate this appeal. After working with an under-the-radar company, they select the most liberal of the nine judges that is due up for reelection and target to bring her downfall. By bringing in their own man (and then backing him with millions of dollars) they will be able to turn this case around and have it thrown out. In The Appeal, it is this aspect that is at the central core.
There are many other small details I have left out, but this is basically the plot in a nutshell. Based on my rating, you will see that this is not one of Grisham's finer works so I will spare you the rest of the details and get to the point here.
Possible the biggest (of several) problems in this story is the lack of a central character. In every other Grisham novel, you knew where the central theme of the story was focused on and who was at the focal point. At no time was I actually aware of the central character here. Now it is okay to have an "ensemble cast" (which has been made popular in many prime time television shows), but there was not really an "ensemble" here. The story bounced between four or five weak characters such as CEO Carl Trudeau, the husband and wife attorney team of Wes and Mary Grace Payton, current Supreme Court justice Sheila McCarthy, and heavily backed challenger Ron Fisk. By the end, it appears Fisk is thrown into the central focus of the story (after being omitted from the first one third of the novel). In itself, this style of using characters is not automatically a negative point. But when none of these characters are developed well or even likable it can present a problem. Because the drama is jumped around so often, no one has a chance to develop outside of their two dimensional introductions (save for a minor plot point involving Ron Fisk at the climax).
The actual story moved along at a fairly decent pace, considering that--outside of a comedic political campaign that kept things lively--not much going on was very gripping.
In a minor way, the conclusion of the novel was suppose to be a teaching lesson of the dark private finances that go on behind the scenes in the political world and how the minority of men with money can easily shape this world. I am going to have to say I was not honestly moved by this plot device.
Admittedly, the summary on the backside of this novel (assuming you have the paperback) did seem gripping; but the story itself never moves up into that higher gear like you would hope it would. Rather then picking up The Appeal, I would rent the John Travolta movie A Civil Action--which is based on a novel that which had a very similar plot to this story. In that story, there is a central character who is involved in a similar case (chemicals, water, cancer, etc.) in a small town and who is also letting the big company financially drain his resources and bringing down the collapse of his small firm. Yes, exactly in the way we see here with the firm of Payton & Payton. However, with the John Travolta character, Jan Schlichtmann, you can see a great performance and a character that puts his heart and soul into this case and even borders obsession regarding it. A type of performance or development that was utterly lacking with The Appeal.
And, to conclude one final point, without giving any spoilers, the ending is extremely disappointing. When done correctly. it could have been motivational, but here, as with the rest of this story, the ending was very flat and made no emotional impact on me.