The Pelican Brief - a reading of the novel
Reviewed: December 6, 2006
By: John Grisham / performed by Anthony Heald
Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio
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
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
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.