The Pelican Brief | Critical Review by Frank J. Prial

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of The Pelican Brief.
This section contains 605 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Frank J. Prial

SOURCE: "Too Liberal to Live," in The New York Times Book Review, March 15, 1992, p. 9.

In the following review of The Pelican Brief, Prial declares: "Mr. Grisham has written a genuine page-turner. He has an ear for dialogue and is a skillful craftsman."

John Grisham hates lawyers. Really hates them. His impressive 1991 best seller, The Firm, exposed an imaginary Memphis law firm owned by Chicago Mafiosi. His new thriller, The Pelican Brief, takes aim at powerful Washington lawyers who front for a homicidal oil billionaire.

In The Firm the slimy lawyers were the story; this time around, they are usually just offstage. In the end, though, when the good guys win, the dotty oil man, with his prehensile Howard Hughes toenails, skips to Egypt or some place like that. Mr. Grisham couldn't care less about him. It's the evil corporate lawyers he's after and, since it's his book, he gets them.

Rapacious lawyers cannot, alone, a thriller make—at least not for a reviewer who has spent a substantial part of his life covering them in courtrooms. They are too commonplace. No, you have to have a rattling good story, too, and that Mr. Grisham provides.

Two liberal Supreme Court justices have been assassinated. No one can come up with a motive. Darby Shaw, a young law student at Tulane University in New Orleans, has a theory: someone coming before the Court might want to give the conservative President an opportunity to replace the two liberals. Checking appeals pending in the Federal courts, she finds what she is looking for and produces a four-page memorandum. This is the pelican brief.

The investigation quickly involves the F.B.I., the C.I.A. and the White House, where the dull-witted President is, in fact, happy with his unexpected Supreme Court nominations. "I want young conservative white men opposed to abortion, pornography, queers, gun control, racial quotas," he says. "I want judges who hate dope and criminals and are enthusiastic about the death penalty. Understand?"

Soon people who have seen the brief, or even know about it, start to die. It's Darby the killers want, but the first to go is her law school professor and lover, blown up in his Porsche by a bomb intended for her. Darby hops around the country, changing airplanes, clothes and hair colors and ducking into phone booths to give instructions to a Washington Post reporter who is trying to break the story.

There are improbabilities—like the elderly White House janitor who feeds state secrets (good ones) to a reporter, and Darby's pluck, which never flags. But this is an adventure story, isn't it?

The chase is fast-paced but not as fast as in The Firm. There Mr. Grisham dealt with two old-fashioned American preoccupations, paranoia and greed. This time around, he also tackles the court, the Government, the ecology and the newspaper business—among other things.

Just when the chase gets hot, we cut to the Oval Office, where the empty-headed Chief Executive is sinking putts on the carpet and being manipulated by his evil chief of staff, Fletcher Coal. Or to a lawyer's office or a hotel room or F.B.I. headquarters, where count on it, people are sitting around and talking, and—maddeningly—the action drags.

O.K., there are lapses. Even so, Mr. Grisham has written a genuine page-turner. He has an ear for dialogue and is a skillful craftsman. Like a composer, he brings all his themes together at the crucial moment for a gripping, and logical, finale.

John Grisham probably has a long and successful writing career ahead—if he doesn't get preachy. It could be a problem; he's a lawyer, too. And you know how they do go on.

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This section contains 605 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Frank J. Prial