by Amy Coffin
It was the perfect crime.
Three crooked judges were doing time in a federal prison. They called themselves The Brethren and unofficially handled inmate disputes within the fences. They needed to earn some income for their eventual release so they began placing tiny ads in the back of magazines:
SWM in 20’s looking for kind and discreet gentleman in 40’s or 50’s to pen pal with.
When the letters came in, they were screened to see if any respondents were wealthy. Those that qualified received a letter from one of the judges. The supposed author was a good-looking young man on the verge of completing drug rehab. The judges conned the pen pals in to thinking the young man was eager to meet and start a relationship.
Correspondence continued until the judges could get the true identity of the pen pal. Their crooked lawyer on the outside provided assistance. Once the pen pal’s true identity was confirmed, an extortion letter was sent. The pen pals were usually wealthy, prominent, married men with a lot to lose if their secrets were revealed. The letters from The Brethren asked for X dollars in return for not outing the pen pal. When the money was received, it was deposited off shore for future use of the judges.
The scheme could go in continually, since the wealthy men couldn’t report the crime. Doing so would out them and ruin their families as well.
The Brethren cast a wide net, conning men across the country. This would prove to be the beginning of the end. You see, the judges conned the wrong man, and now the government is watchingready to con The Brethren in return.
It started out as the perfect crime, but how will it end? Every involved party has a great deal to lose, including the con men and the government officials themselves. When all is said and done, will there be a winner?
It takes only a few chapters for the reader to realize that The Brethren is not the standard Grisham novel. This is not a legal thriller. Rather it is a story of three white-collar con men and a government conspiracy. There is no final showdown in the courtroom, and that may disappoint some Grisham fans.
If read with an open mind, however, The Brethren can prove to be somewhat entertaining. Grisham describes the scam in interesting detail. The only reason it works is because all of the players don’t seem to be playing with a full deck and everyone is breaking the law in one way or another.
The one drawback to The Brethren is the ending, or lack thereof. Several questions were left unanswered. I found myself searching the blank end pages for the magic paragraph that would close the story. No Dice. Prepare for the vague conclusion and you won’t be disappointed. Perhaps you could make up your own ending. Who knows?
That being said, The Brethren is an entertaining book. It is a good book, not a great book. The story is found in the actions and not the characters themselves, so don’t expect to get lost within the pages of this Grisham work. It is better classified as light reading.
All in all a good effort by John Grisham, but I’ve seen better.