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.