© John Grisham 2000
From within the confines of a minimum security prison, three convicted judges spin a web of deceit and extortion across the nation. Relying on a corrupt lawyer with addictions to shuttle mail and handle the money, these three men – termed ‘the Brethren’ — seek out closeted gay men via classified ads in alternative magazines. Posing as young gay men themselves to earn the marks’ trust, the judges then threaten to expose their victims to their wives if they do not pay upwards of $100,000. These closeted men have no recourse but to pay, for explaining the circumstances of their extortion means revealing parts of themselves they’ve kept in hiding. The Brethren have little to lose from their scheme, but financial security following their eventual release from prison to gain – and so they write their letters and prey on their victims, watching their bank accounts grow and contemplating future lives of leisure.
They might have continued to spin their webs for years, but they chanced to ensnare a young politician named Aaron Lake, favored by the CIA to be the next president of the United States. Lake isn’t just favored by the CIA: he was hand-picked by the Director, who has subsequently funded and helped manage Lake’s bid for the office. Fearing the potential rise of a Russian strongman, the Director wants a man willing to double funding for the US military to ward off potential threats – and he does not take kindly to the idea of three felons preying on his man. The Brethren have no idea that the CIA is involved, and their scheme may either result in the biggest payoff ever – or three occupied slabs in the penitentiary morgue.
I read this first years ago, and have read it a couple of times since then. I picked it up over the weekend intending to read a little at lunch, but found it too interesting to put down. The novel is set during the 2000 presidential election – an obvious Dubya stand-in is mentioned as Lake’s potential running mate, and his ‘liberal’ opponent in November is the sitting vice president. Brethren, like The Broker, is a thriller with its roots in the legal system but which involves global politics: his CIA director appears in several other books. This is a breezy read with an interesting start, although the story fades to conclusion rather than coming to an satisfying end.