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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

The Pelican Brief - a reading of the novel

Reviewed: December 6, 2006
By: John Grisham / performed by Anthony Heald
Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio Publishing
5 CDs / 360 minutes, $31.95

The Pelican Brief was John Grisham’s third smash hit novel, followed in print almost immediately by the Julia Roberts starring film which was the cover for the original version of this audiobook. It was also one of the early books to break the 2 1/2 to 3 hour time barrier in abridged form, clocking in at a whopping 6 hours, a huge change in 1992.

While this story is told from several different points of view , the main plot involves legal student Darby Shaw, who is targetted for death by the agents of a wealthy industrialist after she realizes just why two Supreme Court judges have just been murdered. She realizes that the connection between the court’s oldest legal curmudgeon and its youngest, secretly gay, member is that they share a concern for the environment.

She did her research out of curiosity and passed it on to her lover and professor, Thomas Callahan, as much to get his approval as anything else. Callahan passed the brief on to some friends at the FBI and from there it made its way to the Whitehouse, where it raised quite a stir.

Days later it was only the fact that Darby had refused to drive with Callahan when he was drunk after dinner at a New Orleans’ restaurant that saved her from being in the car when it blew up. Darby finds herself on the run, learning how to avoid detection, chased by dangerous men that she does know about and stalked by the more dangerous hired killer who murdered the judges.

While this is the main event in the novel, there are lots of side stories. There’s the tale of the presidential front man who is being manipulated by his much more intelligent chief of staff and the people around him. Sounds almost prophetic when you hear it these days.

There’s the story of the killer, who meets a surprising end while trying to kill Darby.

There’s the sad story of Callahan’s friend, Gavin, an FBI lawyer who is really quite inept and might as well be walking around with a “shoot me” sign round his neck.

Then there’s the other major plot line, which involves a Woodward/Bernstein wannabe named Gray Grantham, who is really quite good at what he does, but needs a little incentive to move him past the “what’s my next exposŽ” routine of thinking. Getting involved in Darby Shaw’s problems provides that incentive, and Gray grows a great deal during his portions of the story.

He had already been contacted by a lawyer calling himself Garcia who claimed to know something about the Supreme Court murders, but was too scared to come out with the whole story. Gray’s inside information meshes perfectly with Darby’s Pelican Brief. Once he gets wind of that and mentions it in his columns she contacts him as someone who might be able to help her get out all the truth and save her life at the same time.

A story with corrupt politicians, greedy millionaires and nasty assassins lined up against an idealistic young lawyer and a crusading journalist has to rely on a lot of coincidence for the good guys to triumph, but they do, and the magic of Grisham’s writing is that when he’s good he can make you forget how improbable it all really is.

This one saw us safely home to Dawson on a Sunday at 40 below with ice fog and smoke in the air. It certainly kept our minds off any problems that we might have had.

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