The Pelican Brief | Critical Review by Aric Press

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of The Pelican Brief.
This section contains 491 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Aric Press

SOURCE: "A Breach of Contract," in Newsweek, Vol. CXIX, No. 11, March 16, 1992, p. 72.

In the following review of The Pelican Brief, Press faults Grisham for failing to explain key occurrences within the plot.

Thriller writers make a deal with their readers. In return for a willing suspension of disbelief, the author sets off on a merry, roller-coaster plot, dropping hints, feinting at shadows, setting off surprises, all with the promise of a reasonable explanation at the end. In his last book, The Firm, John Grisham upheld his end of the bargain, with a hugely successful tale of a young lawyer from Harvard who makes the mistake of joining a Memphis law firm secretly controlled by the Mafia. Comes now Grisham's new book, The Pelican Brief, another of the catch-me-if-you-can genre. This time, it's a brilliant and attractive female law student who's staying one step ahead of the FBI, the CIA and a politically well-connected tycoon who has his own stable of killers. (And there are some fiendish lawyers to hiss at, too!) Grisham keeps the pages turning but, in the end, badly breaches the thrillermeister-reader contract.

After a shadowy killer assassinates two Supreme Court justices, the nation is stumped for suspects and motive. Working in the nether reaches of the Tulane law library—far from the lecherous glances of male law students or the boozy reach of her law-professor lover—Darby Shaw solves the crime. She explains her theory in a memo that becomes known as the pelican brief; the title refers to the endangered species at the heart of the lawsuit that sets off the killings. She thinks it's all pretty farfetched (she's right, of course) but her mentor passes it on to high-placed friends in Washington and the next thing the reader hears is bombs going off and body parts crashing to the pavement.

The setup is swell, and the chase is daring, but there's no brain food here. Why would anyone, even the richest scoundrel in Louisiana, want to kill two justices of the Supreme Court four years before his case might, might, be heard? Why, indeed, when one is 91 and barely alive, and the other is described as erratic at best? Grisham doesn't tell except to lay the idea off on some legal wizard who doesn't shed a clue either. Who leaked Darby's brief to the bad guys? Nobody knows and nobody much cares including the FBI director, even though the tip led to the death of the FBI's counsel. What's in the brief? Hard to say, since we never get to read the whole thing. The one chapter seemingly devoted to it is nifty but it doesn't match the early descriptions. And, by the way, how did Darby crack the case? As she says when she emerges from the law library, she didn't. All she had was a surmise, suggesting perhaps that where legal research fears to tread, legal fiction rushes in. Caveat emptor.

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This section contains 491 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Aric Press