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.|
The Brethren are three ex-judges in a country club prison in Florida who settle disputes among other inmates and help with appeals. They also have a mail scam going that extorts money from middle-aged gay men taking their first tentative steps out of the closet. These are the good guys. Meanwhile, CIA director Teddy Maynard has chosen obscure Arizona Congressman Aaron Lake to become the nation's next president, offering him the message (double defense spending), the money, and the means to shape events to become a surefire winner. Take a deep breath. The listener will be asked to swallow some incredible coincidences, including the extortion scheme's snagging the hitherto immaculate Lake. Reader Michael Beck brings a great deal of energy to his narration. The abridgment works pretty well, though some subplots inevitably get shortchanged, and at least one important scene takes place off-camera. Grisham's (A Time To Kill) ending is weak, but if ever a title rendered criticism irrelevant, this is the one. Buy it for demand rather than merit; you probably already have.--John Hiett, Iowa City P.L. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
-- Lucy T. Heckman, St. John's University Library, Jamaica, NY
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
FOR THE WEEKLY DOCKET the court jester wore his standard garb of well-used and deeply faded maroon pajamas and lavender terry-cloth shower shoes with no socks. He wasn't the only inmate who went about his daily business in his pajamas, but no one else dared wear lavender shoes. His name was T. Karl, and he'd once owned banks in Boston.
The pajamas and shoes weren't nearly as troubling as the wig. It parted at the middle and rolled in layers downward, over his ears, with tight curls coiling off into three directions, and fell heavily onto his shoulders. It was a bright gray, almost white, and fashioned after the Old English magistrate's wigs from centuries earlier. A friend on the outside had found it at a secondhand costume store in Manhattan, in the Village.
T. Karl wore it to court with great pride, and, odd as it was, it had, with time, become part of the show. The other inmates kept their distance from T. Karl anyway, wig or not.
He stood behind his flimsy folding table in the prison cafeteria, tapped a plastic mallet that served as a gavel, cleared his squeaky throat, and announced with great dignity: "Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. The Inferior Federal Court of North Florida is now in session. Please rise."
No one moved, or at least no one made an effort to stand. Thirty inmates lounged in various stages of repose in plastic cafeteria chairs, some looking at the court jester, some chatting away as if he didn't exist.
T. Karl continued: "Let all ye who search for justice draw nigh and get screwed."
No laughs. It had been funny months earlier when T. Karl first tried it. Now it was just another part of the show. He sat down carefully, making surethe rows of curls bouncing upon his shoulders were given ample chance to be seen, then he opened a thick red leather book which served as the official record for the court. He took his work very seriously.
Three men entered the room from the kitchen. Two of them wore shoes. One was eating a saltine. The one with no shoes was also bare-legged up to his knees, so that below his robe his spindly legs could be seen. They were smooth and hairless and very brown from the sun. A large tattoo had been applied to his left calf. He was from California.
All three wore old church robes from the same choir, pale green with gold trim. They came from the same store as T. Karl's wig, and had been presented by him as gifts at Christmas. That was how he kept his job as the court's official clerk.
There were a few hisses and jeers from the spectators as the judges ambled across the tile floor, in full regalia, their robes flowing. They took their places behind a long folding table, near T. Karl but not too near, and faced the weekly gathering. The short round one sat in the middle. Joe Roy Spicer was his name, and by default he acted as the Chief Justice of the tribunal. In his previous life, Judge Spicer had been a Justice of the Peace in Mississippi, duly elected by the people of his little county, and sent away when the feds caught him skimming bingo profits from a Shriners club.
"Please be seated," he said. Not a soul was standing.
The judges adjusted their folding chairs and shook their robes until they fell properly around them. The assistant warden stood to the side, ignored by the inmates. A guard in uniform was with him. The Brethren met once a week with the prison's approval. They heard cases, mediated disputes, settled little fights among the boys, and had generally proved to be a stabilizing factor amid the population.
Spicer looked at the docket, a neat hand-printed sheet of paper prepared by T. Karl, and said, "Court shall come to order."
To his right was the Californian, the Honorable Finn Yarber, age sixty, in for two years now with five to go for income tax evasion. A vendetta, he still maintained to anyone who would listen. A crusade by a Republican governor who'd managed to rally the voters in a recall drive to remove Chief Justice Yarber from the California Supreme Court. The rallying point had been Yarber's opposition to the death penalty, and his high-handedness in delaying every execution. Folks wanted blood, Yarber prevented it, the Republicans whipped up a frenzy, and the recall was a smashing success. They pitched him onto the street, where he floundered for a while until the IRS began asking questions. Educated at Stanford, indicted in Sacramento, sentenced in San Francisco, and now serving his time at a federal prison in Florida.
In for two years and Finn was still struggling with the bitterness. He still believed in his own innocence, still dreamed of conquering his enemies. But the dreams were fading. He spent a lot of time on the jogging track, alone, baking in the sun and dreaming of another life.
From the Audio Cassette edition.
What People are saying about this
From the Publisher
“Terrific storytelling by one of the masters of the game.”—USA Today
“Gripping . . . will hook you from the first page and won’t let you go.”—New York Post
“Fast-paced and action-packed . . . You’ll be thoroughly entertained.”—New Orleans Times-Picayune
“A crackerjack tale.”—Entertainment Weekly