Gripping legal suspenser by the author of last year's hallucinatory The Firm--and an even stronger performance than that still-current bestseller. Grisham also strikes gold with public awareness of the furor over the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Thomas. Where The Firm clamped into the reader's greed for the perks of a supersuccessful young lawyer in an almost fantasy law firm, Grisham's second is a tale that baits its own hooks with the lures of All the President's Men. That much of what happens here happens regularly in suspense novels (sudden stranglings and murders) in no way lessens the novel's intensity and feeling of freshness--a freshness that springs in both novels from Grisham's focus on top law students, cloistered brains who find themselves raw beginners in the real world but afloat on cash. Here, second-year law student at Tulane Derby Shaw sets out to solve the seemingly motiveless simultaneous murders of two largely liberal Supreme Court judges who were killed two hours apart on the same night. A lone assassin or a conspiracy? Clearly someone wants the conservative Republican president, a grandfatherly nerd mainly interested in his golf game, to pack the already conservative Court. Darby reviews hundreds of the Court's upcoming cases and sees only one that fulfills the breadth of evil needed to account for such desperate measures as double murder: a multibillion-dollar oil venture in Louisiana that will kilt off the state's beloved but endangered brown pelican. Derby's brief on this "fictional" case finds its way to the White House, the FBI, and the CIA. Then Darby's lover, her constitutional-law professor, to whom she has shown the brief, is blown up in a car-bomb explosion meant also to have killed Darby. The story's vitality springs from Grisham's relentless enlivening of Derby's fears as she flees about the country in a closing web of killers while trying to help Washington Post reporter Gray Grantham get the goods on the baddies in a newsbreak bigger than Watergate. Must entertainment for legal folk. Should outsell The Firm.