In suburban Georgetown a killer's Reeboks whisper on the front floor of a posh home... In a seedy D.C. porno house a patron is swiftly garroted 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 newsbreak hotter than Watergate -- to help her piece together the deadly puzzle. Somewhere between the bayous of Louisiana and the White House's inner sanctums, a violent cover-up is being engineered. For somone has read Darby's brief. Someone who will stop at nothing to destroy the evidence of an unthinkable crime.
John Grisham's head was full of movies when he wrote The Pelican Brief, which is such a brisk page-turner you could use it to dry your hair. He had Julia Roberts in mind for the heroine, Darby Shaw, a brilliant Tulane law student who comes up with an ingenious theory to explain the baffling assassinations of two Supreme Court justices in one day. They were shot and strangled by ace international terrorist Khamel, who loves the film Three Days of the Condor, but government gumshoes don't get what connects the deaths. Silly government guys! They died so the conservative president, who just wants to be left alone to play golf, will appoint new, conservative justices who will help out a case involving an industrialist who is the enemy of pelicans and other living things. It's all spelled out for them in Darby's brief. She likes to do legal feats to impress her boyfriend, her boyish law prof Thomas (who, like Grisham, prefers to shave at most once a week, and is cool, smart, and antiauthoritarian). The prof likes to paint her toes red, in homage to Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham. (Sarandon also starred in the film version of Grisham's The Client.)
But when Thomas gets splattered by a car bomb meant for Darby, she escapes the hospital and hooks up with a Washington Post reporter, Gray Grantham, who sleuths like the guys in All the President's Men.
Grisham wishes he hadn't written The Pelican Brief quite so quickly (his first novel, A Time to Kill, went through dozens of drafts), but Pelican's very breathlessness contributes to its dreamy, cinematic chase-o-rama atmosphere.