The Barnes & Noble Review
Known for his taut courtroom dramas and David versus Goliath plots, John Grisham takes a slightly different tack with his newest novel, The Brethren. While he continues to dip his toe into the waters of legal and not-so-legal hijinks, Grisham sails this boat into the tumultuous waters of terrorism, spies, world politics, and the U.S. presidential election. This one has the political intrigue of a Tom Clancy novel and the biting sarcasm of Primary Colors mixed in with Grisham's usual brisk pacing, tight plotting, and high-wire suspense.
As with all Grisham thrillers, conniving and duplicity reign supreme in The Brethren. And they come in many forms, from a trio of scheming judges inside a federal penitentiary to the behind-the-scenes manipulation of world events by the CIA. Intelligence gathered by the CIA has identified a new subversive with both the ability and the inclination to become a powerful but menacing world ruler. This future despot's plans not only pose a threat to the United States, but to global stability and world peace. Unless something is done, the pared-down military capabilities of the U.S. will be unable to handle the onslaught, leaving the door wide open for this maniacal terrorist. But the CIA has a plan, one that involves several carefully choreographed machinations that must remain secret. Part of that plan is the manipulation the upcoming presidential election to assure that the country's populace will be behind the CIA's carefully chosen candidate -- one who will support the buildup of U.S. military forces.
While the CIA is putting their plan into place, three convicts at Trumble, a federal prison in Florida, are hatching their own scheme. Trumble is a minimum security facility with decent food, no razor wire, and no armed guards. The criminals here are mostly white collar offenders -- embezzlers, money launderers, tax evaders, and -- a Grisham staple -- crooked lawyers. Trumble is also home to three former judges who call themselves the Brethren. The Brethren provide legal services to other inmates and dispense jailhouse justice via an impromptu kangaroo court. But that's just what they do for fun. With the help of a sleazy, two-bit lawyer from a nearby town, the Brethren are also running a scam that is just beginning to pay off, one that stands to make them all very rich men when they are done serving their time.
When the Brethren snag the wrong person in their scheme, they become the CIA's worse nightmare. Suddenly their little get-rich-quick plan has tossed them into deeper waters than they ever counted on -- and the sharks are hungry and circling. From then on, the tension mounts and the stakes rise in a hair-raising crescendo that is Grisham at his all-time best. The Brethren has the same killer pacing and taut suspense as The Firm, and there is an underlying tone of both light and dark humor that make it a standout from all of Grisham's other works. Readers who revel in Grisham's classic courtroom battles and sleazy maneuverings may be disappointed that there are none of these to be had, but the crackling suspense and high-stakes intrigue in The Brethren make for a most satisfying substitute.
Beth Amos is the author of several mainstream suspense thrillers, including Second Sight, Eyes of Night, and Cold White Fury.
A jailhouse mix of greed, murder, and blackmail.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Only a few megaselling authors of popular fiction deviate dramatically from formula--most notably Stephen King but recently Grisham, too. He's serializing a literary novel, A Painted House, in the Oxford American; his last thriller (The Testament) emphasized spirituality as intensely as suspense; and his deeply absorbing new novel dispenses with a staple not only of his own work but of most commercial fiction: the hero. The novel does feature three antiheroes of a sort, the brethren of the title, judges serving time in a federal prison in Florida for white-collar offenses. They're a hard bunch to root for, though, as their main activity behind bars is running a blackmail scheme in which they bait, hook and squeeze wealthy, closeted gay men through a magazine ad supposedly placed by "Ricky," a young incarcerated gay looking for companionship. Then there's the two-bit alcoholic attorney who's abetting them by running their mail and depositing their dirty profits in an overseas bank. Scarcely more appealing is the big fish the trio snare, Congressman Anthony Lake, who meanwhile is busy selling his lifelong integrity when the director of the CIA offers to lever him into the White House in exchange for a doubling of federal defense spending upon Lake's inauguration. The expertly orchestrated and very complex plot follows these evildoers through their illicit enterprises, devoting considerable attention to the CIA's staging of Lake's presidential campaign and even more to that agency's potentially lethal pursuit of the brethren once it learns that the three are threatening to out candidate Lake. Every personage in this novel lies, cheats, steals and/or kills, and while Grisham's fans may miss the stalwart lawyer-heroes and David vs. Goliath slant of his earlier work, all will be captivated by this clever thriller that presents as crisp a cast as he's yet devised, and as grippingly sardonic yet bitingly moral a scenario as he's ever imagined. Agent, David Gernert. 2.8 million first printing. (Feb. 1) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
From the Publisher
"Gripping ... engaging and fast-paced ... will hook you from the first page and won't let you go."—New York Post
"A crackerjack tale."—Entertainment Weekly
"Fast-paced and action-packed...you'll be thoroughly entertained."—New Orleans Times-Picayune
"The plot is as up-to-date as tomorrow's newspaper, with allusions to presidential polls and debates, campaign financing, money laundering and offshore financial finagling.... Add to these tantalizing ingredients the steady action, with some clever surprises." —The New York Times
A Main Selection of the Doubleday Book Club, the Literary Guild, and the Mystery Guild
Read an Excerpt
"First case is Schneiter versus Magruder," Spicer announced as if a major antitrust trial was about to start.
"Schneiter's not here," Beech said.
"Where is he?"
"Infirmary. Gallstones again. I just left there."
Hatlee Beech was the third member of the tribunal. He spent most of his time in the infirmary because of hemorrhoids, or headaches, or swollen glands. Beech was fifty-six, the youngest of the three, and with nine years to go he was convinced he would die in prison. He'd been a federal judge in East Texas, a hardfisted conservative who knew lots of Scripture and liked to quote it during trials.
He'd had political ambitions, a nice family, money from his wife's family's oil trust. He also had a drinking problem which no one knew about until he ran over two hikers in Yellowstone. Both died. The car Beech had been driving was owned by a young lady he was not married to. She was found naked in the front seat, too drunk to walk.
They sent him away for twelve years.
Joe Roy Spicer, Finn Yarber, Hatlee Beech. The Inferior Court of North Florida, better known as the Brethren around Trumble, a minimum security federal prison with no fences, no guard towers, no razor wire. If you had to do time, do it the federal way, and do it in a place like Trumble.
"Should we default him?" Spicer asked Beech.
"No, just continue it until next week."
"Okay. I don't suppose he's going anywhere."
"I object to a continuance," Magruder said from the crowd.
"Too bad," said Spicer. "It's continued until next week."
Magruder was on his feet. "That's the third time it's been continued. I'm the plaintiff. I sued him. He runs to the infirmary every time we have a docket."
"What're ya'll fightin over?" Spicer asked.
"Seventeen dollars and two magazines," T. Karl said helpfully.
"That much, huh?" Spicer said. Seventeen dollars would get you sued every time at Trumble.
Finn Yarber was already bored. With one hand he stroked his shaggy gray beard, and with the other he raked his long fingernails across the table. Then he popped his toes, loudly, crunching them into the floor in an efficient little workout that grated on the nerves. In his other life, when he had titles?Mr. Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court?he often presided while wearing leather clogs, no socks, so that he could exercise his toes during the dull oral arguments. "Continue it," he said.
"Justice delayed is justice denied," Magruder said solemnly.
"Now that's original," said Beech. "One more week, then we'll default Schneiter."
"So ordered," Spicer said, with great finality. T. Karl made a note in the docket book. Magruder sat down in a huff. He'd filed his complaint in the Inferior Court by handing to T. Karl a one-page summary of his allegations against Schneiter. Only one page. The Brethren didn't tolerate paperwork. One page and you got your day in court. Schneiter had replied with six pages of invective, all of which had been summarily stricken by T. Karl.
The rules were kept simple. Short pleadings. No discovery. Quick justice. Decisions on the spot, and all decisions were binding if both parties submitted to the jurisdiction of the court. No appeals; there was nowhere to take one. Witnesses were not given an oath to tell the truth. Lying was completely expected. It was, after all, a prison.
"What's next?" Spicer asked.
T. Karl hesitated for a second, then said, "It's the Whiz case."
Things were suddenly still for a moment, then the plastic cafeteria chairs rattled forward in one noisy offensive. The inmates scooted and shuffled until T. Karl announced, "That's close enough!" They were less than twenty feet away from the bench.
"We shall maintain decorum!" he proclaimed.
The Whiz matter had been festering for months at Trumble. Whiz was a young Wall Street crook who'd bilked some rich clients. Four million dollars had never been accounted for, and legend held that Whiz had stashed it offshore and managed it from inside Trumble. He had six years left, and would be almost forty when paroled. It was widely assumed that he was quietly serving his time until one glorious day when he would walk free, still a young man, and fly off in a private jet to a beach where the money was waiting.
Inside, the legend only grew, partly because Whiz kept to himself and spent long hours every day studying financials and technical charts and reading impenetrable economic publications. Even the warden had tried to cajole him into sharing market tips.
An ex-lawyer known as Rook had somehow got next to Whiz, and had somehow convinced him to share a small morsel of advice with an investment club that met once a week in the prison chapel. On behalf of the club, Rook was now suing the Whiz for fraud.
Rook took the witness chair, and began his narrative. The usual rules of procedure and evidence were dispensed with so that the truth could be arrived at quickly, whatever form it might take.
"So I go to the Whiz and I ask him what he thinks about ValueNow, a new online company I read about in Forbes," Rook explained. "It was about to go public, and I liked the idea behind the company. Whiz said he'd check it out for me. I heard nothing. So I went back to him and said, 'Hey, Whiz, what about ValueNow?' And he said he thought it was a solid company and the stock would go through the roof."
"I did not say that," the Whiz inserted quickly. He was seated across the room, by himself, his arms folded over the chair in front.
"Yes you did."
"I did not."
"Anyway, I go back to the club and tell them that Whiz is high on the deal, so we decide we want to buy some stock in ValueNow. But little guys can't buy because the offering is closed. I go back to Whiz over there and I say, 'Look, Whiz, you think you could pull some strings with your buddies on Wall Street and get us a few shares of ValueNow?' And Whiz said he thought he could do that."
"That's a lie," said Whiz.
"Quiet," said Justice Spicer. "You'll get your chance."
"He's lying," Whiz said, as if there was a rule against it.
If Whiz had money, you'd never know it, at least not on the inside. His eight-by-twelve cell was bare except for stacks of financial publications. No stereo, fan, books, cigarettes, none of the usual assets acquired by almost everyone else. This only added to the legend. He was considered a miser, a weird little man who saved every penny and was no doubt stashing everything offshore.
"Anyway," Rook continued, "we decided to gamble by taking a big position in ValueNow. Our strategy was to liquidate our holdings and consolidate."
"Consolidate?" asked Justice Beech. Rook sounded like a portfolio manager who handled billions.
"Right, consolidate. We borrowed all we could from friends and family, and had close to a thousand bucks."
"A thousand bucks," repeated Justice Spicer. Not bad for an inside job. "Then what happened?"
"I told Whiz over there that we were ready to move. Could he get us the stock? This was on a Tuesday. The offering was on a Friday. Whiz said no problem. Said he had a buddy at Goldman Sux or some such place that could take care of us."
"That's a lie," Whiz shot from across the room.
"Anyway, on Wednesday I saw Whiz in the east yard, and I asked him about the stock. He said no problem."
"That's a lie."
"I got a witness."
"Who?" asked Justice Spicer.
Picasso was sitting behind Rook, as were the other six members of the investment club. Picasso reluctantly waved his hand.
"Is that true?" Spicer asked.
"Yep," Picasso answered. "Rook asked about the stock. Whiz said he would get it. No problem."
Picasso testified in a lot of cases, and had been caught lying more than most inmates.
"Continue," Spicer said.
"Anyway, Thursday I couldn't find Whiz anywhere. He was hiding from me."
"I was not."
"Friday, the stock goes public. It was offered at twenty a share, the price we could've bought it for if Mr. Wall Street over there had done what he promised. It opened at sixty, spent most of the day at eighty, then closed at seventy. Our plans were to sell it as soon as possible. We could've bought fifty shares at twenty, sold them at eighty, and walked away from the deal with three thousand dollars in profits."
Violence was very rare at Trumble. Three thousand dollars would not get you killed, but some bones might be broken. Whiz had been lucky so far. There'd been no ambush.
"And you think the Whiz owes you these lost profits?" asked ex-Chief Justice Finn Yarber, now plucking his eyebrows.
"Damned right we do. Look, what makes the deal stink even worse is that Whiz bought ValueNow for himself."
"That's a damned lie," Whiz said.
"Language, please," Justice Beech said. If you wanted to lose a case before the Brethren, just offend Beech with your language.
The rumors that Whiz had bought the stock for himself had been started by Rook and his gang. There was no proof of it, but the story had proved irresistible and had been repeated by most inmates so often that it was now established as fact. It fit so nicely.
"Is that all?" Spicer asked Rook.
Rook had other points he wanted to elaborate on, but the Brethren had no patience with windy litigants. Especially ex-lawyers still reliving their glory days. There were at least five of them at Trumble, and they seemed to be on the docket all the time.
"I guess so," Rook said.
"What do you have to say?" Spicer asked the Whiz.
Whiz stood and took a few steps toward their table. He glared at his accusers, Rook and his gang of losers. Then he addressed the court. "What's the burden of proof here?"
Justice Spicer immediately lowered his eyes and waited for help. As a Justice of the Peace, he'd had no legal training. He'd never finished high school, then worked for twenty years in his father's country store. That's where the votes came from. Spicer relied on common sense, which was often at odds with the law. Any questions dealing with legal theory would be handled by his two colleagues.
"It's whatever we say it is," Justice Beech said, relishing a debate with a stockbroker on the court's rules of procedure.
"Clear and convincing proof?" asked the Whiz.
"Could be, but not in this case."
"Beyond a reasonable doubt?"
"Preponderance of the evidence?"
"Now you're getting close."
"Then, they have no proof," the Whiz said, waving his hands like a bad actor in a bad TV drama.
"Why don't you just tell us your side of the story?" said Beech.
"I'd love to. ValueNow was a typical online offering, lots of hype, lots of red ink on the books. Sure Rook came to me, but by the time I could make my calls, the offering was closed. I called a friend who told me you couldn't get near the stock. Even the big boys were shut out."
"Now, how does that happen?" asked Justice Yarber.
The room was quiet. The Whiz was talking money, and everyone was listening.
"Happens all the time in IPOs. That's initial public offerings."
"We know what an IPO is," Beech said.
Spicer certainly did not. Didn't have many of those back in rural Mississippi.
The Whiz relaxed, just a little. He could dazzle them for a moment, win this nuisance of a case, then go back to his cave and ignore them.
"The ValueNow IPO was handled by the investment banking firm of Bakin-Kline, a small outfit in San Francisco. Five million shares were offered. Bakin-Kline basically presold the stock to its preferred customers and friends, so that most big investment firms never had a shot at the stock. Happens all the time."
The judges and the inmates, even the court jester, hung on every word.
He continued. "It's silly to think that some disbarred yahoo sitting in prison, reading an old copy of Forbes, can somehow buy a thousand dollars' worth of ValueNow."
And at that very moment it did indeed seem very silly. Rook fumed while his club members began quietly blaming him.
"Did you buy any of it?" asked Beech.
"Of course not. I couldn't get near it. And besides, most of the high-tech and online companies are built with funny money. I stay away from them."
"What do you prefer?" Beech asked quickly, his curiosity getting the better of him.
"Value. The long haul. I'm in no hurry. Look, this is a bogus case brought by some boys looking for an easy buck." He waved toward Rook, who was sinking in his chair. The Whiz sounded perfectly believable and legitimate.
Rook's case was built on hearsay, speculation, and the corroboration of Picasso, a notorious liar.
"You got any witnesses?" Spicer asked.
"I don't need any," the Whiz said and took his seat.
Each of the three justices scribbled something on a slip of paper. Deliberations were quick, verdicts instantaneous. Yarber and Beech slid theirs to Spicer, who announced, "By a vote of two to one, we find for the defendant. Case dismissed. Who's next?"
The vote was actually unanimous, but every verdict was officially two to one. That allowed each of the three a little wiggle room if later confronted.
But the Brethren were well regarded around Trumble. Their decisions were quick and as fair as they could make them. In fact, they were remarkably accurate in light of the shaky testimony they often heard. Spicer had presided over small cases for years, in the back of his family's country store. He could spot a liar at fifty feet. Beech and Yarber had spent their careers in courtrooms, and had no tolerance for lengthy arguments and delays, the usual tactics.
"That's all today," T. Karl reported. "End of docket."
"Very well. Court is adjourned until next week."
T. Karl jumped to his feet, his curls again vibrating across his shoulders, and declared, "Court's adjourned. All rise."
No one stood, no one moved as the Brethren left the room. Rook and his gang were huddled, no doubt planning their next lawsuit. The Whiz left quickly.
The assistant warden and the guard eased away without being seen. The weekly docket was one of the better shows at Trumble.
From the Paperback edition.