The Pelican Brief by John Grisham

by John Grisham

Hardcover, 1992



In suburban Georgetown a killer's Reeboks whisper  on the front floor of a posh home... In a seedy  D.C. porno house a patron is swiftly  garroted to death... The next day America learns  that two of its Supreme Court justices have been  assassinated. And in New Orleans, a young law  student prepares a legal brief... To Darby Shaw it was  no more than a legal shot in the dark, a brilliant  guess. To the Washington establishment it was  political dynamite. Suddenly Darby is witness to a  murder -- a murder intended for her. Going  underground, she finds there is only one person she can  trust -- an ambitious reporter after a newsbreak  hotter than Watergate -- to help her piece together the  deadly puzzle. Somewhere between the bayous of  Louisiana and the White House's inner sanctums, a  violent cover-up is being engineered. For somone has  read Darby's brief. Someone who will stop at  nothing to destroy the evidence of an unthinkable  crime. From the Paperback edition.… (more)

Library's rating


½ (2367 ratings; 3.6)

User reviews

LibraryThing member melydia
I was not impressed with the other Grisham book I read (The Last Juror), but this one was fun. The twists were decently believable without being too predictable, and none of the characters were unrealistically gifted (a common flaw in thrillers). Though I've never seen the movie, I could picture
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Julia Roberts as Darby Shaw. My one issue was that I never felt much actual suspense; I was not attached enough to the characters to care much if they made it out okay. That said, this was a nice bit of brain candy. I hear Grisham's older works are his best, so I'm actually looking forward to reading The Client and The Firm, both of which are on my TBR.
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LibraryThing member drebbles
When two Supreme Court justices are assassinated on the same night, there is plenty of speculation as to who the assassin or assassins are and why the judges were murdered. Like many others, law student Darby Shaw thinks she knows the motive. She writes a brief, soon to be known as The Pelican
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Brief, and shows it to her law professor/lover, Thomas Callahan. Unfortunately, he shows it to a friend of his who works for the FBI, who passes it along, and it falls into the wrong hands. When Callahan is killed by a car bomb, Darby realizes someone wants her dead and she goes on the run. She hooks up with Washington Post reporter Gray Grantham and the two of them try to stay alive long enough to expose the truth.

This was an exciting but implausible thriller. Darby is a well-written character and it's nice to read a book with a strong, intelligent heroine. Unfortunately, it's not clear until well into the book what Darby's feelings for Callahan really were, it should have been clear earlier that she loved him and was not a student having an affair with a professor in order to get an A. She conveniently has plenty of money, so she can use cash on the run, rather than leave a trail by using plastic. And it strains readers credibility that a law student can outwit trained assassins. Some of the other characters in the book blend into each other and I wasn't always clear as to who some of them were. Grisham does clear up some loose ends, but at the last minute, as if he suddenly remembered them.

Despite these flaws, the story is exciting enough to keep the reader turning pages and worth reading as long as you don't think too much about it.
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LibraryThing member Anagarika-Sean
The book was good. A real page turner.
LibraryThing member hybman1
John Grisham began his writing career on a train commuting from his suburban town in Massachusetts to his law office in Boston. During his commutes, Grisham comprised on his laptop his first legal thriller, The Firm, just because he felt like he wanted to write. As it turned out, Grisham’s book
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was an instant best seller, and he amassed enough money from the book’s sales that he could quit as a lawyer and become a full-time author. He produced many more books, The Pelican Brief being one of them. The book starts itself off with a bang; we are taken to the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, where the mystery begins. Two Supreme Court justices are assassinated during the same night, two hours apart from each other. The murderer(s) left no traces. The FBI is baffled. The Secret Service is baffled. It seems that nobody has a clue who this (or these) criminals are. Enter Darby Shaw, a brilliant law student studying at Tulane University. Her research led her to some astonishing parallels, and she thinks she is on to something. When a bomb goes off a few blocks from her house, she knows she is on to something. Grisham intertwines his ability as a writer to thrill his audience with his ability as a lawyer to be precise, accurate, and logical. It is a very good, and quick, read.
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LibraryThing member virginiahomeschooler
This is John Grisham at his best. A wonderful legal thriller.
LibraryThing member akfarrar
I’ve known of the book for some time and even, on one or two occasions picked it up and considered reading it – always to return it to the shelf: For some reason I thought it was a ‘lawyer’ story.

Now, with it firmly on the CAE reading list, as a matter of duty, I’ve read it.

I am tempted
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to name a new literary genre:

The Time Filler.

A good time filler is strong on plot, adequate with language, sufficient with character and not too far from realism to cause concern. It will roll along never pausing for too long in any one place or with any one person, love affairs are reduced to brief encounters, killings are counted in serial-numbers and enough petrol and aviation fuel is burnt to raise the Earth’s average temperature another degree.

The Pelican Brief is a good time filler.

I took four sessions to finish the 420-odd pages, and didn’t feel pressed for time – it is a rapid read.

The plot is sort of realistic in that you can imagine someone wanting to bump off a couple of American Supreme Court justices to change the ‘political’ make-up of the Supreme court – but the book does stretch credibility a little with the descriptions and personalities of both the victims and their executioner – it seemed as though Gresham had gone through a check list of ‘most likely to make a best seller’ qualities and selected them for inclusion.

The same too with his heroine, Darby Shaw, who is a least female and intelligent – more intelligent than most of the other characters in the book. However, she never really escapes the cliché of female as victim in need of a good man to support her. Why did she have to be a blond bombshell? Why couldn’t she have been short, stumpy even, and ugly? Why does the book have to end in such a ‘happy ever after’ way on a beach?

One answer is the sales figures – and film rights.

All the way through I felt I was getting exactly what I wanted – no surprise other than a needed plot twist, no truly ambiguous character – just good guy and bad guy (and a very obvious – you got it wrong, good guy portrayed as bad).

And some very film-able locations – including Washington, New York and a pre-deluge New Orleans.

It occupied me pleasantly enough, but I ended with a – that’s it? and so what? Turned the light off, and slept well.
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LibraryThing member polo9
I like and have enjoyed many of John Grisham's novels, and I admire, respect and marvel at his many accomplishments and achievements, they are awesome; but, this particular work is in a category all its own.

Pelican strains credulity beyond belief, after reading this it would be difficult to imagine
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that anything good would come of his future efforts, or that anyone would ever bother; then he follows with the "Client" a really funny book, with a great character - a memorably enjoyable reading experience.

Pelican is a dud, client is nirvana!

Grisham's production is variable and operates in a very broad range.
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LibraryThing member mazda502001
Couldn't put this book down - great read.

Back Cover Blurb:
Late one night, Abe Rosenburg, the Supreme Court's liberal legend is gunned down in his own home. The same night, Myron Jensen, the court's youngest and most conservative justice, is strangled . What linked the two men and what caused their
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deaths? Darby Shaw thinks she knows the answer.
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LibraryThing member susanbevans
I read this book in high school for a "free read" - the teacher gave us a list of "acceptable" contemporary books. My three star rating is more due to the fact that this was just not my cup of tea, not that it was badly written or anything. Many fans of this genre love Grisham. It just wasn't for
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LibraryThing member bendzgerona
My second Grisham novel. Still delivered the signature Grisham twists and fast paced action. The book, a always, is better than the movie (which I also saw).
LibraryThing member bribre01
A decent read, but not Grisham's best. Probably my least favorite Grisham novel. It started slow for me, but picked up about halfway through. An interesting plot, but it could have been made more exciting.
LibraryThing member les121
An excellent murder mystery. Very suspenseful.
LibraryThing member robertdatson
I've just read The Firm, and now The Pelican Brief. The former hooked me in very quickly. The Pelican Brief has a confusing start, dumping a pile of unrelated events upon us, setting the scene. It takes a little while for us to meet the main character, and at no stage do we get a strong
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understanding of her. Sure, she's clever, resourceful, etc., but she is two dimensional. Hence, I don't care about what happens, and this lessens the tension of the story.

Having read both of these books back to back, I can also see the similarities of Grisham's view of the legal profession, and whilst he is the expert, and I am not, I find it hard to believe that the lawyer firms he describes are just big sweatshops, where everyone works 12-18 hour days, six days a week. Lawyers are supposed to be intelligent...

Not sure now if I am going to keep reading Grisham - the lack of attention to character development is the big miss for me.
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LibraryThing member wenestvedt
My big brother worked for West Publishing at the time this movie was made, and he generated the screens of data that Julia Roberts pages through in one scene. See, every American lawyer uses West's law databases, so my brother's work provided some real street cred to this flick. *snort* Regardless
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of how closely I watched, I didn't see a line of it -- sorry, Cris. Not a bad movie, though.
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LibraryThing member ConnieJackson
This book kept my interest, page after page.

The story is different, in fact,very different from normal storylines in most of the books out there on the market. It is refreshing and interesting because it shows how one ordinary lady, Darby Shaw, can come up with a solution that all the experts could
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not think of. Even after two justices are killed without a trace of evidence, she decides to uncover the killer. Then, when her brief is handed over to the FBI, the agent dies two days later in Darby's place.

Once, she realizes that the killers are after her, she knows that she must stay one step ahead of them, so she doesn't stay in one place for two nights. During these chapters the book is thrilling when Darby is being chased, and each time you think this is her last day on Earth she escapes death.
In my opinion, Grisham, wrote a trilling, legal mystery that will keep your interest from the first page to the last page.
Enjoy, I highly recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member bennyb
One of Grisham's better novels. Plenty of cat and mouse action. Definately worth a read!
LibraryThing member FredKinley
a good holiday, light read
LibraryThing member evanplaice
It has been over 5 years since I read this book and I still have a bitter taste in my mouth when I think about it. Calling it anticlimactic would be an understatement. It seems as though the author tries to make up for the lack of depth in the plot by introducing random plot twists. If you're the
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type of person who drools over legal thrillers you may like the book more than I did. I just can't forget that this book had the worst ending of any book I have ever read. I literally cringed when I picked it up to enter it into my library listing.
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LibraryThing member Kace
The first John Grisham book that I devoured. It was so good. Very intriguing, and a little bit of a paranoia magnet...I totally saw conspiracies everywhere after reading this book. Grisham kept up his great writing for anther 3 books or so, but then it was the same idea recycled time after time.
LibraryThing member adam.currey
A reasonable legal thriller, but a bit inconsistently paced - one moment we're breathlessly following along the action flipping pages to see what's about to happen, and then next we're slogging through a dozen pages of dry political machinations.

My biggest criticism of this book was the casual
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sexism. Perhaps a sign of the fact that the world is a different place in 2020 as I write this, than it was in 1992 when this book was written, but I found it tiresome that the main protagonist is not only portrayed as a stunningly beautiful young woman, but that we're reminded constantly of it - almost literally every single man she meets is mentioned as admiring her physical appearance. Again and again and again.

All of this for little in the end, as the great earth-shattering conspiracy turns out to be a little weak, and the climax isn't particularly satisfying.
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LibraryThing member mikedraper
Two supreme justices are murdered on the same day. Many people are attempting to find the relationship between the two men and a motive for the killing.

Darby Shaw is a bright law student at Tulane and thinks she knows why the justices were murdered. She researches her opinion and publishes her
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findings in a document called "The Pelican Brief.'

Darcy is a lover of law school professor Thomas Callahan and gives him a copy of the brief. He gives it to a friend in the FBI to see what he thinks and soon after, Callahan is murdered and Darcy becomes a hunted person.

John Grisham is an excellent storyteller and master of creating suspense. The reader can empathise with Darcy who stays alive by her intelligence but doesn't know who she can trust. Nevertheless she continues in her attempt to expose the guilty person, at the risk of her life.
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LibraryThing member lewilliams
Darby Shaw has written a brief, that later becomes known as the Pelican Brief. Shortly after her boyfriend/professor shares it with others, he is killed in a car bomb. This sets off a series of events in which Darby is chased by hired killers as well as the White House chief of staff. She puts her
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trust in a journalist from the Washington Post as they try to stay one step ahead of their pursuers. Can they stay alive before the story breaks?
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LibraryThing member JaimiTaylor
Loved it better than the movie.
LibraryThing member Bennyjon
I couldn't put down the book while I was reading. I finished reading the book very fast.
An amazing thriller.
LibraryThing member joanna_17000
Taut thriller about a young law student whose legal brief about the assassination of two Supreme Court justices causes her to be targeted by killers. She realizes just how accurate her accusations have been when her lover and mentor is murdered. Forced to go on the run in New Orleans, she is aided
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by a journalist who helps her unravel a conspiracy involving senior government figures.
legal-suspense thriller
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Original publication date





0-385-42198-2 / 9780385421980
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