Review: The Pelican Brief

The Pelican Brief by John Grisham

By John Grisham. Grade: B+

In suburban Georgetown, a killer’s reeboks whisper on the floor of a posh home…

In a seedy D.C. porno house, a patron is swiftly garrotted 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 reporter hotter than Watergate – to help her piece together the deadly puzzle. Somewhere between the bayous of Louisiana and the White House’s inner sanctum, a violent cover-up is being engineered. For someone has read Darby’s brief. Someone who will stop at nothing to destroy the evidence of an unthinkable crime.

More than legal fiction, this is espionage. This novel reminded me of a Robert Ludlum novel – the fast paced chases, the convoluted scheming and plotting of the men behind the curtain, the atypical double-crossing – high-octane spy stuff, with a hint of legality – the John Grisham touch.


The plot is about the high-profile killing of two Supreme Court Justices –so silent and untraceable that even the FBI has no clue about it. One of the Justices killed was the legendary hero of constitutional law, which snowballed into the leading lady, Darby Shaw looking into the matter. Darby Shaw began digging up, made an innocuous brief of what could have possibly happened and that brief, via various channels, reaches the FBI – the ripple effect at its best. Suddenly, the world around Darby Shaw begins to crumble with a shattering explosion killing the man she loves, an explosion meant to kill her as well. Darby Shaw begins seeing people following her all over the place and she realizes she is part of something bigger, much bigger than she could possibly imagine. What happens as Darby fights against the odds, flirting with death while romancing with whatever life she has left, trying to get the people responsible to justice – read The Pelican Brief to find out.


The writing is not characteristic of John Grisham – there is nothing law-like about the novel except for the backdrop. The more I read, the more I felt like I was reading a spy novel – something which is not very John Grisham. The Pelican Brief is good only if you ignore the writer’s name on the book, only if you allow the author breathing space to experiment with his characteristic writing style. The book had flair – the chases, the conspiracy, the characterization  The plot is the kind which grows on you gradually – the very subtle, inconspicuous mention of the pelican brief, the slow unravelling of the plot, the build-up – it’s as if the plot is almost lulling you into it.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the one thing about The Pelican Brief is that it has no unexpected turns – something very uncharacteristic of a thriller novel. Every turn, every pawn, every move was in sync with the previous one. As a result, the novel proceeded like a plateau – not plot-wise  but event-wise  Unfortunately, because there were no highs, not even in the chases and fortunately, because there were no lows as well. This could probably be attributed to the fact that John Grisham has not tried his hand much at such novels.


Technical features aside, The Pelican Brief is a good attempt at a cut-and-dried thriller novel but lost its sheen because of the name on the cover of the book.

This post was written by

Jayesh – who has written posts on Vault of Books ||.
I am Jayesh Surisetti. I have been chasing books ever since I got to know them.

Directly or indirectly, every single person on this Earth owes a lot to books. This is my way of repaying books.

My favourite genres are fiction, alternative history and murder mystery.


Stay up to date with our latest reviews, contests and other books-related things. We promise not to spam - two emails a month maximum.


Truly Madly Deeply by Faraaz Kazi

Engines of The Mind

Recommended: Beaten by Bhagath: A Tale of Two Writers

Advert: Uff Ye Emotions: An Anthology


Donate To Us

Even a dollar helps! We put in a lot of our time and effort mainly for the love of books, and would be glad of your appreciation of our work.

Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲