The Brethren. After I finished reading, I checked out the online reviews for this book. Without a reference point to understand how others viewed his body of work, I enjoyed getting a bit more perspective reading what others thought compared to other Grisham novels. It was interesting that of the 1100 reviews for this book on Amazon.com, most had a decidedly negative impression. My take, just judging from this one read, was that this work was nothing special. Fairly predicable, fairly simple story arcs, not particularly compelling characters. However, I still enjoyed the book and it was a fairly quick read.
The Brethren are a group of three ex-judges, sentenced for various crimes to do their time in a low-security federal prison. They have set up a little court of their own within the prison to adjudicate various disputes between the inmates. They also oversee a scam that involves posting ads in the personal sections of gay men's magazines, posing as a young man looking for an older man for a relationship. Using a series of carefully crafted letters, they learn more about the men who answer before finally extorting money from them under threat of exposing their activities. It is a scheme that is beginning to pay dividends.
As a backdrop to this, the world continues on a steady course to instability and war due to various rogue leaders and enemy states. The director of the CIA and his inner circle have hand-picked a candidate that they will groom and fund to run for president of the United States. This man, Aaron Lake, a low-level congressman from Arizona, has agreed to run on a platform promising to double military funding over the duration of his term. The CIA director then uses every trick in his bag to ensure the citizenry grows ever more worried about the current weak state of the U.S. military. Mr. Lake takes the nation by storm, but has a single skeleton in his closet. He answered the personals ad and has found himself caught up in the net of the Brethren. Payoffs, assassinations, well-placed operatives, and intelligence services abound in this straight-ahead, but fairly middle-of-the-road thriller. I have another Grisham book on my desk called The Last Juror that I will tackle next.