Book of the week: Perversion of Justice by Julie K. Brown
Brown’s account of Jeffrey Epstein’s undoing is a ‘searing indictment of a society in thrall to money and power’
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Jeffrey Epstein’s name is “so universally reviled” now that it’s easy to forget how different things once were, said David Enrich in The New York Times. Not long before he died in jail while awaiting trial for sex-trafficking, he had many of the world’s most powerful men on speed dial; he owned a Gulfstream jet and a Caribbean island. Even journalists were bamboozled – but not Julie K. Brown.
In 2018, the Miami Herald reporter published three “explosive” articles about how, a decade earlier, the authorities had allowed Epstein to escape investigation by pleading guilty to two minor charges of soliciting prostitution. Prosecutors were galvanised and Epstein was arrested; now Brown has written a “gripping” account of how she exposed him.
At its heart is her long search for victims, who speak at length and in “searing” detail. There are some gaps in her narrative. How did Epstein get so rich? How much did his friends know? Even so, there’s no doubting the magnitude of Brown’s achievement.
“Perversion of Justice reads like a thriller,” said Christina Patterson in The Sunday Times, “but it is a searing indictment of a society in thrall to money and power”. Epstein spent millions trying to ensure that his victims’ voices would never be heard: he donated to the police, to politicians, to charities. The cushy plea bargain that long allowed him to evade justice was approved by Alex Acosta, who would become President Trump’s secretary of labour. Brown’s “blistering” account of institutional corruption shows exactly why independent journalism is so vital.
As a guide to how a man with deep pockets circumvented the criminal justice system, this is a “vomit-inducing” book, said Lloyd Green in The Guardian – but for the tenacity of Brown, who tracked down around 60 young women who alleged that he had abused them, Epstein would have got away with it.
In many ways, this is “a good ol’-fashioned newspaper yarn”, said Laura Miller on Slate, replete with stonewalling public officials, conspiratorial whisperings and threatening phone calls; Brown had to trawl through reams of court documents, and win over the only two policemen in Palm Beach who seemed willing to risk their careers for justice.
The assumption that the victims – vulnerable girls aged 17 or under – were insignificant and disposable pervaded everything Epstein did. But Brown, whose own background was not so different from theirs, never doubted that their stories were important enough to be told: “They were just waiting for the right person to tell it.”
HarperCollins 464pp £20; The Week Bookshop £15.99
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