Book Review: John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief


One Saturday morning I boiled a kettle and made myself a cup of coffee, but before I could take my first sip I decided to read just one chapter to get myself in the mood for this legal thriller I had just picked up. I could not stop at one chapter but when I was done with all forty five chapters my coffee was still piping hot. I was flying through literature, and at that pace I could read all the 52 books I set out to read in 2019 in just one week of the December month of 2018.

This wasn’t necessarily due to my superior reading powers, but because of some carefully selected literary gems. In just four weeks I had gone through Sidney Sheldon, Leigh Nichols, John Grisham, Robin Cook and Stephen King.

In the Pelican Brief, a constitutional court judge named Abraham Rosenberg is hated by every conservative American; from the anti-abortionists to the homophobes, white supremacists and the anti-pornography groups and everyone in between. He is known for his contrarian views towards legal judgements and that has earned him enemies through all walks of life.

Rosenberg is not only wheelchair bound, but also breathes through a machine and there have been calls for the oxygen machine to be switched off.

The full bench of the constitutional court received death threats, but Rosenberg alone received three times the number of death threats the rest of the judges got combined. It was therefore logical for the FBI to offer bodyguards to all the judges. The judges cooperated with the FBI security operations, except Rosenberg – saying he did not want agents in his flat – and Jensen who would usually dress in disguise and sneak out from the backyard.

A hired killer named Khamel managed to kill both Rosenberg and Jensen in one night; Rosenberg was shot three times in his flat together with his nurse and one special agent while Jensen was strangled at a club. When it turned out the club at which Jensen was killed was a gay joint the legal fraternity was both shocked that Jensen was gay and embarassed by it.

Darby Shaw – a magna cum laude Biology graduate who had not only started her second degree pursuing law, but was also dating a Constitutional Law professor, Thomas Callahan – took great interest in the deaths of both Rosenberg and Jensen. Callahan had been a keen disciple of Rosenberg and was touched by his death.

Rosenberg and Jensen were chalk and cheese, it was not easy to find someone who hated both men at the same time so much as to want to kill them both on the same night. After some research, Darby put together a legal document that sought not only to find a connection between the two murders but to also show it was the same murderer who committed the atrocious crimes and had intentionally eliminated both Rosenberg and Jensen together.

She showed the drafted document to her boyfriend Callahan, who gave it to his old friend from law school, Gavin Verheek, who now worked as a state lawyer. The document that was already known as The Pelican Brief – and implicated very powerful individuals in government – made its way to the FBI and threatened the lives and livelihoods of many men.

And when Callahan was killed in a car explosion, Darby found herself on the run. She knew the people that killed Rosenberg and Jensen had also killed Callahan and she was likely the target of the car explosion. The killers were now on her tails and she could not trust anyone anymore

This book is a trademark Grisham legal masterpiece that not only narrates the mundane law processes and practices but also opens one’s eyes about implications of the decisions taken by lawmakers on our everyday life.

For a book to not only be turned into a movie, but to also star Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts it has to be one hell of a book. And The Pelican Brief is that and more.

In all the sub-genres of fiction, legal fiction is one of my favourites. Just as much as Stephen King rules the horror fiction sub-genres no one does legal fiction like John Grisham.

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