The Pelican Brief

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The shocking news that two Supreme Court justices have been brutally murdered is baffling to both the White House and the F.B.I.. The president, a conservative Republican, senses that there may be a political connection to his administration that could be damaging to his reelection bid. And he wants answers. But the FBI fails to establish a motive or come up with a credible list of suspects. Meanwhile in New Orleans, Darby Shaw, a Tulane law student, notes the timing of the murders and suspects that there may be a plot to pack the Court with conservatives. What is puzzling, however, is how dissimilar the murdered justices were. One was a ninety-year-old liberal patriarch of the Court, the other a young conservative justice.

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After reviewing hundreds of cases which are scheduled to be heard by the Court, she finally discovers one that may contain an issue volatile enough to result in the killings. Darby writes a brief based on her research which reveals a surprising link between the two murdered justices. It seems that a case pending before the court involves an attempt by a businessman to secure access to an oil deposit found in the middle of a Louisiana marshland. This marshland is the home of the brown pelican, a bird which is on the Federal endangered species list.

Darby’s brief ends up being passed to the White House, the FBI and the CIA. Shortly thereafter, her law professor boyfriend is killed in a car-bombing meant to eliminate them both. Darby’s narrow escape makes her realize she is a marked woman. Desperate, she contacts a WASHINGTON POST reporter and together they work to develop a story which will expose the killers. Going underground to avoid her pursuers, Darby flees first to Baton Rouge, then to Chicago and New York. On the way she and the reporter discover the truth and, need it be said, each other.

John Grisham’s THE FIRM (Doubleday, stayed on the NEW YORK TIMES best-seller list longer than any other work of fiction in 1991 and established him as a writer capable of unreeling a fairly decent yarn about the sleazy dealings of lawyers. A former attorney himself, Grisham is familiar enough with the legal world to write convincingly of lawyers, guns, and money. THE PELICAN BRIEF should stand up well alongside his first best-seller and further satisfy demand for the upscale whodunit.

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