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The Brethren [Mass Market Paperback]

John Grisham
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,209 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 26, 2000
They call themselves the Brethren: three disgraced former judges doing time in a Florida federal prison.

One was sent up for tax evasion. Another, for skimming bingo profits. And the third, for a career-ending drunken joyride.

Meeting daily in the prison law library, taking exercise walks in their boxer shorts, these judges-turned-felons can reminisce about old court cases, dispense a little jailhouse justice, and contemplate where their lives went wrong.

Or they can use their time in prison to get very rich -- very fast. And so they sit, sprawled in the prison library, furiously writing letters, fine-tuning a wickedly brilliant extortion scam ... while events outside their prison walls begin to erupt.

A bizarre presidential election is holding the nation in its grips -- and a powerful government figure is pulling some very hidden strings. For the Brethren, the timing couldn't be better. Because they've just found the perfect victim...

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Editorial Reviews Review

John Grisham's novels have all been so systematically successful that it is easy to forget he is just one man toiling away silently with a pen, experimenting and improving with each book. While not as gifted a prose stylist as Scott Turow, Grisham is among the best plotters in the thriller business, and he infuses his books with a moral valence and creative vision that set them apart from their peers.

The Brethren is in many respects his most daring book yet. The novel grows from two separate subplots. In the first, three imprisoned ex-judges (the "brethren" in the title), frustrated by their loss of power and influence, concoct an elaborate blackmail scheme that preys on wealthy, closeted gay men. The second story traces the rise of presidential candidate Aaron Lake, a puppet essentially created by CIA director Teddy Maynard to fulfill Maynard's plans for restoring the power of his beleaguered agency.

Grisham's tight control of the two meandering threads leaves the reader guessing through most of the opening chapters how and when these two worlds will collide. Also impressive is Grisham's careful portraiture. Justice Hatlee Beech in particular is a fascinating, tragic anti-hero: a millionaire judge with an appointment for life who was rendered divorced, bankrupt, and friendless after his conviction for a drunk-driving homicide.

The book's cynical view of presidential politics and criminal justice casts a somewhat gloomy shadow over the tale. CIA director Teddy Maynard is an all-powerful demon with absolute knowledge and control of the public will and public funds. Even his candidate, Congressman Lake, is a pawn in Maynard's egomaniacal game of ad campaigns, illicit contributions, and international intrigue. In the end, The Brethren marks a transition in Grisham's career toward a more thoughtful narrative style with less interest in the big-payoff blockbuster ending. But that's not to say that the last 50 pages won't keep your reading light turned on late. --Patrick O'Kelley --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers 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 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Dell; First Printing edition (December 26, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0440236673
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440236672
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 4.1 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,209 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,144,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
109 of 117 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars They are never the same... January 31, 2000
With the majority of mass market autors, you are guaranteed the same kind of read over and over. Not grisham. The Brethren focuses on a little clan of judges in a low security prison setting up a get rich quick scheme that will guarantee they are set up for good after jail. They lure the men in through placing ads in gay magazine and then track down the men who reply. This leads to the perfect extortion scheme because these men don't want to be found. They make a mistake with one of the men and it just gets better. if you like Grisham, you'll love the Brethren. Not his best, but great anyway, you won't be disappointed.
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109 of 119 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another solid Grisham book February 6, 2000
Firstly, this book is written by John Grisham, which means that you get the usual well-written book, so that once you start it, you don't put it down till you finish. (At least, that's what happened to me. I read it in a weekend.) What makes this one different is that there aren't really any good guys. It's the story of how some crooked judges are able to run a scam from inside a jail, paralleled with how a completely evil general tries to buy an election and start a war. The scam itself is really the hero of the story. I often caught myself thinking "Isn't that clever?". Also, Grisham shows his usual cynicism of lawyers with a funny character called Trevor. (Here's betting Steve Buscemi will play him in the movie!) Other reviewers have commented that the plot could have done with some more twists. But I didn't mind the way the plot developed. I found it more believable than The Firm, (whose main character seemed a bit too superhuman), but not quite as intriguing as The Runaway Jury (which is my favourite). All in all, it's a good solid Grisham book that will be well worth the price when it comes out in paperback.
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53 of 60 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Extremely disappointing February 18, 2000
I absolutely love John Grisham. However, after this book, I think he needs to take a little time off and think about his writing. His first 3 books were incredible. Then, they got a little less exciting. I thought he was going to have a resurgence with The Testament, a book not many liked, but I thought really extended him as a writer. Then, this one. I thought this book was very uneventful. I kept expecting the usual Grisham suspense, drama, murder, etc. It never came. There was no suspense at all. It could have been a biography of the 3 judges. That's was it read like. Very disappointing!
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Just kinda drifts off... February 16, 2000
Great premise and could have been an extraordinary story, but it appears that Grisham forgot to flesh it out past a Hollywood treatment. Reading the last few pages, I was on edge waiting for the EXPLOSIVE finale. Didn't happen. I think that he was already into his next big, blockbuster, chart-busting, top o'the list bestseller and just shoved this one to the side...
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Frank Muller Wins This Case! June 20, 2000
Format:Audio Cassette
You might call this a legal brief - a bit less involved than most Grisham fare, but a fun way to pass the time nonetheless. Or *do* the time... The brethren consists of three imprisoned ex-judges in a white-collar institution who concoct an intricate blackmail scheme that preys on wealthy, closeted gay men. Posing as "Ricky," a young, lonely homosexual in rehab, the judges turn out not to be such great judges of character when they end up penpalling with the wrong man.
Then there's breezy Congressman Aaron Lake, a political puppet shucking and jiving to the tune of CIA Director, Teddy Maynard. Maynard is grooming Lake for the presidency - once housed at 1600 Pennsylvania, Lake will sit back and let Maynard's CIA run the country. Lake seems perfect: he is relatively young, handsome, well-spoken, is malleable and squeaky clean. Or is he?
You see where this is going... so did I, but it was a lot of fun listening to the seemingly unconnected plotlines, trying to guess when the two worlds would collide. This book is deliciously fraught with mud-slinging presidential campaign ads, international intrigue, dirty lawyers on the take, suicide and murder, false love letters, and money... lots and lots of money. Unlike some of Grisham's heavier, more message-laden books (A Time To Kill, or The Rainmaker) The Brethren is written just to entertain.
The reader, Frank Muller, does an excellent job. He expertly handles playing several characters without overdoing it; you can tell the difference between the speakers without being distracted by a showboating acting performance. Muller is the winner of several awards for his audio book performances, and it's easy to tell why with this reading.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Manchurian Candidate Meets the Bretheren Grim February 15, 2000
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Even granting that John Grisham is a genre unto himself, his latest tale of crooked judges, attorneys and politicians and their hapless victims is not up to his usual standard. While "The Bretheren" is distinguished by the same shallow insights, stereotyped characters, cliched descriptions ("tell, don't show" apparently is Grisham's guiding stylistic principle), and plot summaries that characterize most if not all of Grisham's work, in this case, the characters are even more banal and thinly-sketched than usual, while the plot is a hackneyed blackmail scenario married to a Grisham-version of "the Manchurian Candidate." Nor does Grisham provide any "good guys" to provide a narrative or psychological counterpoint to the three incarcerated judges whose blackmail scheme intersects with the CIA's own plan to employ illegal campaign financing and orchestrated overseas terrorism to elect a presidential candidate that will serve its own political ends: the only "heros" in this story are the hurriedly described, quickly-disposed of gay victims of the three blackmailers and an equally insubstantial, wrongly-imprisoned boat-builder. While the world may indeed be as grim as all that, Grisham's novels, lacking psychological depth or narrative complexity, must rely on the struggle between good and evil to sustain the reader's interest. In this case we have a mere catalogue of bad guys who behave badly, and a poorly-drawn,uninspired one at that.
Indeed, one gets the impression that Grisham had no fun writing this novel and that, having contracted to produce a book a year, he is merely, and grimly "churning 'em out".
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