Fiction: “The Pelican Brief” by John Grisham

Pelican BriefOkay, full disclosure: I finished reading this like, two weeks ago.  I’m still not sure why I haven’t written the review of it yet; I blame Comic-Con and all its goings on (you guys – you guys – we meet Francis Dolarhyde in episode 8 next year!  I AM NOT OKAY).

I alluded to my reading list a couple of entries ago, and basically the Hobby Lobby decision made me want to reread two favorites: The Pelican Brief, because somebody decides to kill Supreme Court Justices; and The Handmaid’s Tale, because if nothing happens, it could become our future and not just some culture-warning science-fiction.  But I’ll talk more about that book in that review.

Now, The Pelican Brief does not deal with women’s rights, feminism, or hardly any of the issues the current Congress is fighting over, and that’s fine: I didn’t read it for the issues, I read it for the violence.  In the first three or so chapters, a highly-skilled assassin named Khamel kills two Supreme Court Justices – Rosenberg, because he’s the most outspoken liberal on a higher-majority-than-our-current Conservative Court; and Jensen, an oddball.  The Feds can’t come up with a link between the two Justices and who would want to kill both of them.

Enter Darby Shaw, and her law professor/lover, Thomas Callahan.  Callahan, a Constitutional law professor at Tulane, worshipped Rosenberg, and he takes his death very hard.  Darby, meanwhile, “plays detective” and tries to figure out what killed him and Jensen.  What she discovers, she dismisses out of hand, but still types up a brief to give to Thomas.  Thomas gives her brief to his friend in the FBI, who gives it to his boss, the head of the unit, and he gives it to the White House Chief of Staff, and before everyone knows it, all of Washington is talking about this thing that comes to be known as the Pelican Brief.

And then the mastermind behind the Justice killings starts getting paranoid and even more murder-ey.  He blows up Thomas in a car bomb, and if Thomas hadn’t been drinking enough to keep Darcy out of the car, she’d be dead too. She immediately goes underground, cutting and dyeing her hair and taking every precaution she can.  Thomas’s friend at the FBI tracks her down, and she’s about to escape New Orleans with him when Khamel kills him and assumes his identity.  She nearly gets killed, except Khamel was being followed by the CIA and someone shoots him first.

At this point, Darcy contacts a journalist at the Washington Post – Gray Grantham, who wants the story.  He agrees to play by her rules and her time constraints, and eventually the two of them get back into Washington from New Orleans and they find all the missing pieces.

Essentially, there’s this power and money-hungry oil tycoon who bought tons of oil-rich acreage in Louisiana, and he’s been biding his time before he can start drilling.  Just before he can start his enterprise, an environmental group called Green Fund sues some of his companies and holdings, claiming that the enterprise will effectively wipe out the Louisiana Brown pelican, a species near extinction as it is.  The case has been tied up in courts for years, and eventually, it will make its way to the Supreme Court.  And even though it won’t end up at the Supreme Court for years, the paranoid and evil mastermind decides to kill Rosenberg and Jensen now – firstly because they almost always come down on the side of the environment, and also because if he waits for Rosenberg to die, he could be replaced by another liberal.  The current president (in this world) is Republican, and will most likely create a bench full of Conservatives.

You almost have to admit: his plan was sheer elegance in its simplicity.

Obviously the good guys save the day; it’s a Grisham novel, and one of his earliest.  There won’t be any instances of Goliath beating David in his novels for a while now, at least.

Before I get into how this Grisham novel officially shakes out, let’s talk about some parts where I laughed my ass off.

Here’s one:

“The states have compelling reasons to prohibit the sale and possession of certain types of arms.  The interests of the state of New Jersey outweigh the Second Amendment rights of Mr. Nash.  Society cannot allow individuals to own sophisticated weaponry.” [p. 20]

OH MY GOD.  I LAUGHED SO HARD, YOU GUYS.  SO HARD.  Because everyone knows now that the Second Amendment is the most holy of our texts – it even supersedes the Bible. You can take our lives, but you’ll never take our AK-47s and other advanced weaponry! And after my giggle fit subsided, I of course burst into tears at the state of our country.

What else made me laugh/cry?

One of the reactions to the deaths of the Justices was an upcropping of protests and vindication from some fringe groups.  This (clearly confused) group targets the porn houses of Washington, D.C. (remember guys: this book was written before the Internet, a time when porn theaters were a thing because no one could get it for free on the Interwebs):

But his was a nonviolent group, opposed to the indiscriminate killing of innocent and/or insignificant people.  They had killed a few necessary victims.  Their specialty, however, was the demolition of structures used by the enemy.  They picked easy targets: unarmed abortion clinics, unprotected ACLU offices, unsuspecting smut houses. [p. 81]

He keeps saying “non-violent”; I do not think it means what he thinks it means.

Oh, this made me laugh, but only to myself: the President in this book goes unnamed.  When I’m first introduced to the character, I picture Pres. Fitzwilliam Grant* on Scandal, because yes, I do watch other shows besides Hannibal.  The Chief of Staff in The Pelican Brief is Fletcher Coal, and he is a smarmy jackass of the first order.  So I went to imdb. to figure out who played Coal in the movie, and lo and behold, the actor who plays Fitz on Scandal?  Played Fletcher Coal in the movie!  I couldn’t have made that up if I tried!

*HOLY SHIT. I JUST REALIZED THAT BIG JIM, FITZ’S FATHER ON SCANDAL, IS PLAYED BY BARRY BOSTWICK.  YOU GUYS: FITZ’S FATHER IS A TRUE AMERICAN BADASS.  (And now I really don’t know how to feel about what happened to Mellie … )

Two more brief things:

1) I learned that one of the best movies according to Khamel is Three Days of the Condor.  Reading that line reminded me that my friend Amelia’s favorite movie is Three Days of the Condor, which means that I really should watch Three Days of the Condor, because if it’s good enough for both my good friends and paid assassins to love it, I’ll love it too?

2) The Chain of Screaming is officially a thing!

“Sorry.  I’ve slept six hours since they found the bodies.  The Director screams at me at least five times a day.  I scream at everybody under me.  It’s one big brawl over there.” [p. 99]

So, according to my handy-dandy Grisham-O-Matic, how does The Pelican Brief shake out?

I. An idealistic lawyer – the fresher out of law school, the better;
discovers
C. The case s/he’s currently working on has ties to the highest of government.
With the help of
2. The FBI,
s/he:
c. is able to prove the conspiracy.
As his/her life is now in danger, s/he must:
i. escape to the Caribbean or South America.
Usually, s/he also manages to swindle the Mafia/Government/Whatever out of a tidy sum of:
* $10 million.

(although this time, the $10 million was the fee to Khamel for his killings; Darby was already fairly well off.)

Grade for The Pelican Brief: 3 stars

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