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. 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.
BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from John Grisham's The Litigators.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||4 MB|
About the Author
Hometown:Oxford, Mississippi, and Albemarle County, Virginia
Date of Birth:February 8, 1955
Place of Birth:Jonesboro, Arkansas
Education:B.S., Mississippi State, 1977; J.D., University of Mississippi, 1981
Read an Excerpt
"First case is Schneiter versus Magruder," Spicer announced as if a major antitrust trial was about to start.
"Schneiter's not here," Beech said.
"Where is he?"
"Infirmary. Gallstones again. I just left there."
Hatlee Beech was the third member of the tribunal. He spent most of his time in the infirmary because of hemorrhoids, or headaches, or swollen glands. Beech was fifty-six, the youngest of the three, and with nine years to go he was convinced he would die in prison. He'd been a federal judge in East Texas, a hardfisted conservative who knew lots of Scripture and liked to quote it during trials.
He'd had political ambitions, a nice family, money from his wife's family's oil trust. He also had a drinking problem which no one knew about until he ran over two hikers in Yellowstone. Both died. The car Beech had been driving was owned by a young lady he was not married to. She was found naked in the front seat, too drunk to walk.
They sent him away for twelve years.
Joe Roy Spicer, Finn Yarber, Hatlee Beech. The Inferior Court of North Florida, better known as the Brethren around Trumble, a minimum security federal prison with no fences, no guard towers, no razor wire. If you had to do time, do it the federal way, and do it in a place like Trumble.
"Should we default him?" Spicer asked Beech.
"No, just continue it until next week."
"Okay. I don't suppose he's going anywhere."
"I object to a continuance," Magruder said from the crowd.
"Too bad," said Spicer. "It's continued until next week."
Magruder was on his feet. "That's the third time it's been continued. I'm the plaintiff. I sued him. He runs to the infirmary every time we have a docket."
"What're ya'll fightin over?" Spicer asked.
"Seventeen dollars and two magazines," T. Karl said helpfully.
"That much, huh?" Spicer said. Seventeen dollars would get you sued every time at Trumble.
Finn Yarber was already bored. With one hand he stroked his shaggy gray beard, and with the other he raked his long fingernails across the table. Then he popped his toes, loudly, crunching them into the floor in an efficient little workout that grated on the nerves. In his other life, when he had titles?Mr. Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court?he often presided while wearing leather clogs, no socks, so that he could exercise his toes during the dull oral arguments. "Continue it," he said.
"Justice delayed is justice denied," Magruder said solemnly.
"Now that's original," said Beech. "One more week, then we'll default Schneiter."
"So ordered," Spicer said, with great finality. T. Karl made a note in the docket book. Magruder sat down in a huff. He'd filed his complaint in the Inferior Court by handing to T. Karl a one-page summary of his allegations against Schneiter. Only one page. The Brethren didn't tolerate paperwork. One page and you got your day in court. Schneiter had replied with six pages of invective, all of which had been summarily stricken by T. Karl.
The rules were kept simple. Short pleadings. No discovery. Quick justice. Decisions on the spot, and all decisions were binding if both parties submitted to the jurisdiction of the court. No appeals; there was nowhere to take one. Witnesses were not given an oath to tell the truth. Lying was completely expected. It was, after all, a prison.
"What's next?" Spicer asked.
T. Karl hesitated for a second, then said, "It's the Whiz case."
Things were suddenly still for a moment, then the plastic cafeteria chairs rattled forward in one noisy offensive. The inmates scooted and shuffled until T. Karl announced, "That's close enough!" They were less than twenty feet away from the bench.
"We shall maintain decorum!" he proclaimed.
The Whiz matter had been festering for months at Trumble. Whiz was a young Wall Street crook who'd bilked some rich clients. Four million dollars had never been accounted for, and legend held that Whiz had stashed it offshore and managed it from inside Trumble. He had six years left, and would be almost forty when paroled. It was widely assumed that he was quietly serving his time until one glorious day when he would walk free, still a young man, and fly off in a private jet to a beach where the money was waiting.
Inside, the legend only grew, partly because Whiz kept to himself and spent long hours every day studying financials and technical charts and reading impenetrable economic publications. Even the warden had tried to cajole him into sharing market tips.
An ex-lawyer known as Rook had somehow got next to Whiz, and had somehow convinced him to share a small morsel of advice with an investment club that met once a week in the prison chapel. On behalf of the club, Rook was now suing the Whiz for fraud.
Rook took the witness chair, and began his narrative. The usual rules of procedure and evidence were dispensed with so that the truth could be arrived at quickly, whatever form it might take.
"So I go to the Whiz and I ask him what he thinks about ValueNow, a new online company I read about in Forbes," Rook explained. "It was about to go public, and I liked the idea behind the company. Whiz said he'd check it out for me. I heard nothing. So I went back to him and said, 'Hey, Whiz, what about ValueNow?' And he said he thought it was a solid company and the stock would go through the roof."
"I did not say that," the Whiz inserted quickly. He was seated across the room, by himself, his arms folded over the chair in front.
"Yes you did."
"I did not."
"Anyway, I go back to the club and tell them that Whiz is high on the deal, so we decide we want to buy some stock in ValueNow. But little guys can't buy because the offering is closed. I go back to Whiz over there and I say, 'Look, Whiz, you think you could pull some strings with your buddies on Wall Street and get us a few shares of ValueNow?' And Whiz said he thought he could do that."
"That's a lie," said Whiz.
"Quiet," said Justice Spicer. "You'll get your chance."
"He's lying," Whiz said, as if there was a rule against it.
If Whiz had money, you'd never know it, at least not on the inside. His eight-by-twelve cell was bare except for stacks of financial publications. No stereo, fan, books, cigarettes, none of the usual assets acquired by almost everyone else. This only added to the legend. He was considered a miser, a weird little man who saved every penny and was no doubt stashing everything offshore.
"Anyway," Rook continued, "we decided to gamble by taking a big position in ValueNow. Our strategy was to liquidate our holdings and consolidate."
"Consolidate?" asked Justice Beech. Rook sounded like a portfolio manager who handled billions.
"Right, consolidate. We borrowed all we could from friends and family, and had close to a thousand bucks."
"A thousand bucks," repeated Justice Spicer. Not bad for an inside job. "Then what happened?"
"I told Whiz over there that we were ready to move. Could he get us the stock? This was on a Tuesday. The offering was on a Friday. Whiz said no problem. Said he had a buddy at Goldman Sux or some such place that could take care of us."
"That's a lie," Whiz shot from across the room.
"Anyway, on Wednesday I saw Whiz in the east yard, and I asked him about the stock. He said no problem."
"That's a lie."
"I got a witness."
"Who?" asked Justice Spicer.
Picasso was sitting behind Rook, as were the other six members of the investment club. Picasso reluctantly waved his hand.
"Is that true?" Spicer asked.
"Yep," Picasso answered. "Rook asked about the stock. Whiz said he would get it. No problem."
Picasso testified in a lot of cases, and had been caught lying more than most inmates.
"Continue," Spicer said.
"Anyway, Thursday I couldn't find Whiz anywhere. He was hiding from me."
"I was not."
"Friday, the stock goes public. It was offered at twenty a share, the price we could've bought it for if Mr. Wall Street over there had done what he promised. It opened at sixty, spent most of the day at eighty, then closed at seventy. Our plans were to sell it as soon as possible. We could've bought fifty shares at twenty, sold them at eighty, and walked away from the deal with three thousand dollars in profits."
Violence was very rare at Trumble. Three thousand dollars would not get you killed, but some bones might be broken. Whiz had been lucky so far. There'd been no ambush.
"And you think the Whiz owes you these lost profits?" asked ex-Chief Justice Finn Yarber, now plucking his eyebrows.
"Damned right we do. Look, what makes the deal stink even worse is that Whiz bought ValueNow for himself."
"That's a damned lie," Whiz said.
"Language, please," Justice Beech said. If you wanted to lose a case before the Brethren, just offend Beech with your language.
The rumors that Whiz had bought the stock for himself had been started by Rook and his gang. There was no proof of it, but the story had proved irresistible and had been repeated by most inmates so often that it was now established as fact. It fit so nicely.
"Is that all?" Spicer asked Rook.
Rook had other points he wanted to elaborate on, but the Brethren had no patience with windy litigants. Especially ex-lawyers still reliving their glory days. There were at least five of them at Trumble, and they seemed to be on the docket all the time.
"I guess so," Rook said.
"What do you have to say?" Spicer asked the Whiz.
Whiz stood and took a few steps toward their table. He glared at his accusers, Rook and his gang of losers. Then he addressed the court. "What's the burden of proof here?"
Justice Spicer immediately lowered his eyes and waited for help. As a Justice of the Peace, he'd had no legal training. He'd never finished high school, then worked for twenty years in his father's country store. That's where the votes came from. Spicer relied on common sense, which was often at odds with the law. Any questions dealing with legal theory would be handled by his two colleagues.
"It's whatever we say it is," Justice Beech said, relishing a debate with a stockbroker on the court's rules of procedure.
"Clear and convincing proof?" asked the Whiz.
"Could be, but not in this case."
"Beyond a reasonable doubt?"
"Preponderance of the evidence?"
"Now you're getting close."
"Then, they have no proof," the Whiz said, waving his hands like a bad actor in a bad TV drama.
"Why don't you just tell us your side of the story?" said Beech.
"I'd love to. ValueNow was a typical online offering, lots of hype, lots of red ink on the books. Sure Rook came to me, but by the time I could make my calls, the offering was closed. I called a friend who told me you couldn't get near the stock. Even the big boys were shut out."
"Now, how does that happen?" asked Justice Yarber.
The room was quiet. The Whiz was talking money, and everyone was listening.
"Happens all the time in IPOs. That's initial public offerings."
"We know what an IPO is," Beech said.
Spicer certainly did not. Didn't have many of those back in rural Mississippi.
The Whiz relaxed, just a little. He could dazzle them for a moment, win this nuisance of a case, then go back to his cave and ignore them.
"The ValueNow IPO was handled by the investment banking firm of Bakin-Kline, a small outfit in San Francisco. Five million shares were offered. Bakin-Kline basically presold the stock to its preferred customers and friends, so that most big investment firms never had a shot at the stock. Happens all the time."
The judges and the inmates, even the court jester, hung on every word.
He continued. "It's silly to think that some disbarred yahoo sitting in prison, reading an old copy of Forbes, can somehow buy a thousand dollars' worth of ValueNow."
And at that very moment it did indeed seem very silly. Rook fumed while his club members began quietly blaming him.
"Did you buy any of it?" asked Beech.
"Of course not. I couldn't get near it. And besides, most of the high-tech and online companies are built with funny money. I stay away from them."
"What do you prefer?" Beech asked quickly, his curiosity getting the better of him.
"Value. The long haul. I'm in no hurry. Look, this is a bogus case brought by some boys looking for an easy buck." He waved toward Rook, who was sinking in his chair. The Whiz sounded perfectly believable and legitimate.
Rook's case was built on hearsay, speculation, and the corroboration of Picasso, a notorious liar.
"You got any witnesses?" Spicer asked.
"I don't need any," the Whiz said and took his seat.
Each of the three justices scribbled something on a slip of paper. Deliberations were quick, verdicts instantaneous. Yarber and Beech slid theirs to Spicer, who announced, "By a vote of two to one, we find for the defendant. Case dismissed. Who's next?"
The vote was actually unanimous, but every verdict was officially two to one. That allowed each of the three a little wiggle room if later confronted.
But the Brethren were well regarded around Trumble. Their decisions were quick and as fair as they could make them. In fact, they were remarkably accurate in light of the shaky testimony they often heard. Spicer had presided over small cases for years, in the back of his family's country store. He could spot a liar at fifty feet. Beech and Yarber had spent their careers in courtrooms, and had no tolerance for lengthy arguments and delays, the usual tactics.
"That's all today," T. Karl reported. "End of docket."
"Very well. Court is adjourned until next week."
T. Karl jumped to his feet, his curls again vibrating across his shoulders, and declared, "Court's adjourned. All rise."
No one stood, no one moved as the Brethren left the room. Rook and his gang were huddled, no doubt planning their next lawsuit. The Whiz left quickly.
The assistant warden and the guard eased away without being seen. The weekly docket was one of the better shows at Trumble.
What People are Saying About This
“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
A bn.com Exclusive Interview with John Grisham
barnesandnoble.com: What can you tell us about your new novel, THE BRETHREN? Set the story up for us.
John Grisham: The Brethren are three ex-judges serving time in a federal prison for a variety of sins. They are bright, bitter, bored, and they begin scamming people on the outside, all in an effort to make money. One scam goes awry, they hook up the wrong person, a man with powerful friends, and suddenly they are in serious danger.
bn.com: Did you visit a minimum-security prison in preparation for THE BRETHREN? What other research went into this novel?
JG: Yes, I went to a minimum-security unit in Georgia, spent the day, interviewed some lawyers, had a delightful time. One trip was enough research.
bn.com: What inspired you to focus a novel on dirty judges? Ever run across one, or rumors of one, while practicing law? Have you read Scott Turow's PERSONAL INJURIES, another recent novel that deals with corrupt court officials?
JG: No, I never met a corrupt judge. Dumb ones and mean ones and lazy ones, yes, but never one willing to make money in return for sympathetic rulings. I chose judges because I was tired of lawyers. I did read PERSONAL INJURIES, and I enjoyed it. The characters were wonderfully complicated, and the plot was very clever.
bn.com: Do you ever miss practicing law? How much do you think your influence has contributed to the flocks of students seeking law careers?
JG: I have yet to miss the practice of law. I have not intentionally inspired young people to go to law school. I wish they wouldn't.
bn.com: Last year was the first year since 1995 that moviegoers weren't treated to a John Grisham film. Any reason for the mellowing pace? Can we expect a new film based on one of your novels in 2000?
JG: I'm taking a break from the movies, though I admit that I've missed seeing the adaptations. THE RUNAWAY JURY might, and I repeat might, be filmed this year.
bn.com: It's been reported that you're writing a novel Charles Dickens-style, to be serialized in The Oxford American magazine. Is this novel also a thriller? How do you enjoy writing on a strict monthly schedule?
JG: The book is called A PAINTED HOUSE. It is a highly fictionalized childhood memoir being published in six installments by The Oxford American in Oxford, Mississippi. I've written two installments, four to go, and so far the threat of an impending deadline has been very motivational. So far, so good.
bn.com: After all of your popular success, what keeps you at the keyboard?
JG: It's still fun. And it takes six months out of the year. I'm not sure what I would do with my time if I didn't write a book. When it becomes a bore, I hope I'll have the sense to take some time off.
bn.com: In a previous interview you mentioned your dislike for book reviewers. Do you feel that book reviewers treat popular writers differently than lesser-known writers?
JG: I've yet to meet a writer who liked the critics, as a whole. Most critics are frustrated novelists who are scornful and jealous of what they read. Frankly, though, after ten books, and ten years of getting hammered by the critics, I've learned to ignore them. The books are selling, the readers are happy, who needs the critics? I try to irritate them by selling even more books.
bn.com: Was reading important to you while growing up? Whose works did you pick up while taking a break from dry law school reading?
JG: We didn't watch much television when I was a kid. We read books, lots of them, beginning with Dr. Seuss, then the Hardy Boys and Chip Hilton, and Sports Illustrated and Boys' Life. I didn't read much in law school, though I do remember reading Irving's THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP and THE BRETHREN by Woodward and Armstrong. (What a great title for a book!)
bn.com: What's the downside of your celebrity status? How invasive can it be? Does being one of the world's most popular novelists carry many burdens?
JG: I'm a famous writer in a country where few people read. I don't allow my celebrity to become a burden; I ignore it. It's easy to hide here on the farm, write books, pretty much ignore the outside world. Fame, at my level, which is not very high on the pole, is manageable. It sure beats practicing law.
bn.com: Finally, how's the Little League team coming along?
JG: My son is now 16, my daughter 14, so they have outgrown Little League. I'm an assistant coach for my son's high school team, and I'm the general manager for my daughter's softball team. The snow is melting; it's almost that time of the year...
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
My first Grisham read was the Brethren. I have read many of his since, and while all are good this one sticks in my mind the most. you could'nt ask for a more brilliant plot to a story.If you are a Grisham fan, a mystery fan, and love conspiracy, you will love this book.
An interesting twist on a crime story: the men involved in a scam to make money are already in prison and were judges and lawyers, meanwhile a major power play is being hatched out by the head of the CIA to elect the next President of the U.S..
I take my time with good novels and never speed read an author such as Grisham. His wording and vocabulary are superb to the point that you can feel the character's heartbeat. This really is a great book. I am surprised by the negetive reviews. I've had it for two years now and it is always one I re-read while waiting on the next thriller. The story line is the same but I never tire of it. And so it goes I remain a fan forever.
The Brethren written by author John Grisham is a story of three judges in a prison named Tremble. From Trumble the three judges run scams of blackmailing innocent people of their money by threatening to tell their secret of being homosexuals even though they are married. The fun thing about this book is that they do all of this through letters making every move count. The way the plan work is that the three judges post up magazine articles looking for homosexuals who would like to pen pal. The people that the Brethren target are secretly gay married men that are wealthy. The victims of the Brethren will do anything to keep their secret a secret. The Brethren leave these people alone once they get as much money from them as they can. This book gets really suspenseful when their plan catches a man named Aaron Lake, a nominee for the next president of the United States. This book is kind of a long read but it is also quick to read because it is hard to put it down once you get started. I normally don¿t read much but this book was really good and I am looking forward to reading another of Grisham¿s books. This book is a bit difficult to understand in the beginning but once you catch on it gets a lot better. I recommend this book to anyone that really wants to be kept on the edge of their seats.
I haven't read a book that captured my attention the way this did in 10 years. I read the book in a day and a half which is very unusual for me as I usually take my time with a book but from page 1 I just could not put it down.
The book isn't terrible, but it's not the best. It starts and ends slow with no major twist or surprise. Overall it has a good plot with very vivid and unique characters.
Great job by John Grisham, I love everything he writes.
Was a little confusing, too many characters for 2 different stories, that eventually became one. For me that is when it became more interesting. The ending was disappointing.
Good, fast, easy read for the middle of the night when you can't sleep and your mind is fuzzy.
The book tried to be exciting and how it ended was ugly.
In this, yet another John Grisham legal thriller, the author spins another exciting and exotic tale from the fringes of the American legal system. Telling the story of three former judges serving time in a federal prison, he paints an intriguing picture of the seedy underbelly of the prison system, where three people with legal know-how and moxie can perpetrate an extortion scheme under the disinterested noses of the minimum security guards.In Grisham's most satisfying book since "The Runaway Jury," "The Brethren" is a page-turner merging the story of these three disgraced judges with a partially rigged presidential election. Merging a tale of sex and politics, with the very active involvement of the CIA Director, the story moves at a fast clip, filled with twists and turns.Unlike some of Grisham's other books, this one is less tied to the intricacies of the law. In fact, the main catalysts for the story are decidedly out of legal bounds, focusing on manipulation and extortion. The characters are economically drawn, in the style of a thriller, with perhaps only an alcoholic attorney as an intriguing, three dimensional personality.Still, the book is entertaining and absorbing. If not Grisham's best, and it's hard to imagine that he'll ever top "The Firm," it is still an excellent book, a unique thriller with ominous overtones that heighten the suspense.
A typical Grisham read . . . meaning riveting and thoughtful. What starts out as two seemingly disparate tales (a pen pal extortion scheme operated by three judges inmates of a federal prison and a Machivellian scheme by the director of the CIA to fix the nomination process and secure the election of a previously unknown hand-picked candidate who will be controlled by the CIA director) come together when CIA finds that their candidate has been ensnared by the extortion ring.
At first I thought there were two different stories in the book. There were so many characters, I started getting mixed up. About 2/3rds along, the two stories merged and made sense. The ending was a surprise for me.
One of the better Grisham stories.
A crime reaches from inside prison to the outside world with potentially far reaching consequences. Unfortunately, once I got a little way into it, I found the story quite predictable.
This book is well written. The author has weaved two story lines that are tied together extremely well and the the two premises are very interesting. Three imprisoned judges pulling off for them what appears to be a safe blackmail scheme. And the CIA buying the Next president of The USA. Finally Grisham is back on his game for thiss book is funny and easy to read. It is better than his last two.
One of Mr. Grisham's best. A good read.
this one wasn't too bad. it is about 3 judges that were put in prison for one monetary reason or another and the scam they run from prison to bank some money if and when they get out. it also ties in the outside with a presidental election. the only thing that really sucked about this book was the ending. it just sort of stopped. i hate it when books do that. but is wasn't a bad read before that.
Another enjoyable story by Mr. Grisham. Again, Mr. Grisham has not disappointed me with this story. In the Brethren the author took me on a journey into a political campaign, and how the government can control an election. The characters of the three judges' and their activities were believable. What I appreciated about John Grisham is that each new book that he releases takes me into a new world and I always learn something from his stories. The Brethren is a super story. Enjoy it, it's a wonderful book.
Great book! One of my favorite Grisham novels, it's a really intriguing story that sucks you in.
Not bad. It was a little weird in some spots, but overall, pretty good. Probably not my favorite, but it held my interest.
Another solid effort by John Grisham. He knows how to write the legal thrillers very well, and always does a good job with them.
Such a disappointment after enjoying The Last Juror so much. There is not a single likeable character in this book. It is impossible to care about who gets caught at their misdeeds. I'll admit that the twin plots - a purchased presidency and a porn con run from jail - were intriguing enough to sweep me along, and everything was techincally competent and well-enough paced.In romance writing, there's a rule that if the hero and heroine could settle things by one long and honest talk, then your conflict is not adequate. In the same vein, Lake's little predilection could have been solved early on without any of the ensuing drama, after the reader buys into the (not-terribly-credible) world JG describes. This is a rookie mistake and it was definitely distracting.And again with the sailing/desert island fantasy! Enough, I beg you, JG!Is it possible that this book was ghost-written? A few times recently I've noticed such disparities in the quality of books by well-known authors, esp. those who are publishing frequently. And I've heard rumors (eg Koontz)...somehow I wouldn't have guessed JG would do it though.
It was interesting up to the conclusion. Story development was at a nice pace, but the ending seemed hurried and weak.