Teacher Support Programme
The Pelican Brief
The Pelican Brief is a legal thriller – a thriller in which much of the plot and action is based on elements of the law and the roles of big business and government. It was written in 1992 by John Grisham. It was his third novel and the second of his books to be made into a film. The film was directed by Alan J. Pakula and stars Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington.
About the author
John Grisham was born on 8 February 1955, in
Jonesboro, Arkansas, the United States. After graduating in law from Mississippi State University, he started a small law firm in Southaven, Mississippi, where he practised both civil and criminal law. In 1983, he was elected to the
Mississippi House of Representatives (the lower house in the US parliament).
One day in court he overheard the testimony of a twelve-year-old girl who had been raped. He started to wonder what would have happened if the girl’s father had killed the rapists … and he started to write his first novel, A Time to Kill, which deals with the theme of a black man in Mississippi who murders the rapists of his young daughter. Grisham was working a 60–70 hour week at that time and he could write only by getting up early and writing before going to the office, and using the time between court work to write. He finished the novel and sent it to publishers, but it was rejected many times before finally being published in 1989. Since then he has written about one book a year. While most are connected with law in some way, he has also written several non-legal fiction books. Many of his books have been made into films.
Grisham soon became one of the world’s top-selling novelists – there are now more than 225 million copies of his books in print, in thirty languages. Despite this, he gave up writing for a few months in 1996 to return to court and honour a commitment he had made to the family of a railroad worker killed at work. He represented the family in court and won for them the biggest financial settlement of his career.
c Pearson Education Limited 2008
The Pelican Brief tells the story of Darby Shaw, a young law student in the United States, who puts together a theory of why two Supreme Court judges have been murdered. She shows her theory to her lover, a professor in law. He then shows it to an ex-colleague of his who now works for the FBI. Awful things start happening to Darby and she realizes that her theory has put her life in danger.
She runs away and eventually turns to the only person she can trust – a newspaper reporter determined to find out the truth and save Darby’s life.
Chapters 1–3: A hired killer named Khamel kills two
Supreme Court judges, Rosenberg and Jensen. At first glance, these important judges (two of nine appointed by the government for life) seem to have little in common so it is a mystery why they were murdered.
The President hears about their deaths from Fletcher Coal, his chief of staff. They recognize that the President will now have a chance to appoint two new judges who will support the views of the Republican party.
The President and Coal meet with Denton Voyles from the FBI and tell him to get a list of suspects to them by that evening. Voyles assigns Eric East to the case.
Darby Shaw, a law student specializing in the environment, talks with her boyfriend, Thomas Callahan, about the murders. Thomas is a law professor at the university in New Orleans. Darby plans to look for a connection between the two judges by looking at upcoming cases in the Supreme Court. She finds one case that could link the two judges. Meanwhile, Thomas arranges to meet with an old friend, Gavin Verheek, who is legal adviser for the FBI.
Chapters 4 –6: Thomas meets with Darby who tells him she has put together a brief linking the two judges, but she is not convinced it amounts to