This is the third John Grisham novel, and it’s the first one I remember coming out and being famous, after John Grisham was becoming famous. So it was the first NEW John Grisham being passed around by the adults in my life. It has a similar structure to The Firm in a way of promising something huge in concept and then being much smaller in execution. (The Firm’s big reveal feels so laughably small by the time we get to it, and this one has a bit of that too).
It’s the early 1990s and we’re all soldiers in the Culture Wars. There are protests outside the Supreme Court and old coot Justice Rosenberg is giving one of crazy opinions where civil liberties are protected, no matter how vile. The protests have led to threats, and the threats have led to around the clock security by the FBI. Unfortunately for all, Rosenberg refuses to cooperate with his protection, and fellow, much younger, justice Jensen keeps sneaking out and away from his because he’s a closeted gay man who keeps going to porno theaters (sorry, it’s the early 1990s). Both are assassinated by an international for hire killer (ala The Day of the Jackyl) and now we have the opening credits. We cut to Darby Shaw attending her con law class at Tulane University taught by her lover William Callahan. After hearing of the assassinations, she dives into motives of possible suspects and comes up with a theory that she types up as “The Pelican Brief”. Her theory makes it into the hands of Callahan’s FBI friend who passes it up the chain where it gains traction. The theory ends up triggering some alarms along the way and Callahan (and almost Darby) is blown up by a car bomb. Now on the run, she teams up with Washington Post reporter to track down the killers, stay alive, and uncover the truth.
It’s a pretty goofy, but solidly thrilling good political thriller that doesn’t hold up in the ways that a political financial scandal that may or may not have led to some murders would bring down a president. Who knows anymore?