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2/5: The Pelican Brief, John Grisham

The Pelican Brief - John Grisham

Two US Supreme Court judges are killed in what appears to be a related incident, but no one can figure out why, except a law student named Darby Shaw who suddenly everyone wants killed…

This was John Grisham’s third novel, and in a way it follows closely the formula of the previous one, The Firm. I picked it up on a whim, mainly because the copy of The Firm I have has a teaser for this at the end.

As a comparison to The Firm: both protagonists go on the run, “chased…by anonymous corporations and police forces” to paraphrase Inception. Both of them find a way to tell their stories and both end up in the Caribbean in the epilogue. Neither have any real ties, and both are rich enough to be able to hop on a plane at a minutes notice and stop in decent hotels night after night. The Firm’s male protagonist needs a woman to help him succeed; Darby Shaw needs a man to help her succeed.

I don’t wish to drop too many spoilers here, but the plot creaked and dragged in too many places for me to rate this higher. In the middle of the book, there’s a long section where two characters are interviewing students. Obviously, it’s going to be the last student they talk to, or none at all, that gives them the information they need. It dragged on for a whole chapter, and it could have been trimmed and we wouldn’t have missed anything.

There’s an exposition scene at the end where the head of the FBI explains what’s been going on and my eyes glazed over, even though it was only a page.

It’s a timely book though, given the political situation of 2018 in the US: A golf loving president tells the head of the FBI to stop investigating a crime, and it’s repeatedly stated it’s close to obstruction of justice to do so.

There also seems to be some author-intrusion going on in one chapter as well, when Grisham is discussing the oil business in Louisiana and it's destruction of the environment. It's a jarring note.

The premise had a touch of Agatha Christie: It’s impossible to work out why these Supreme Court judges were killed without information that comes to light only 80% of the way through the book.

Perhaps I was reading it too much as a who-done-it, but that does seem to be the intent: Darby goes to a records office to research her brief, but no clues are given as to what the subject is. And because I was looking for those clues, it made an unsatisfactory read to be given the answer in a plot dump.