A Filthy Saga

A Filthy Saga

James Patterson, that human fiction factory, has churned out another book, only this time it’s a real-life whodunit. Or perhaps, since the reader learns on page 2 who did it (and did soft time eight years ago), this potboiler is more of a “why-did-he-get-off-so-lightly?”

Jeffrey Epstein, 63, of Palm Beach, Manhattan, and the Virgin Islands is, indeed, filthy rich. One supposition on how he got so, based on unnamed sources in "Filthy Rich" (Little, Brown, 320 pp., two stars out of possible four), is that he crafted tax-avoidance schemes for filthy rich clients.

What is clear is that Epstein hung out with a diverse cast of characters, among them Prince Andrew, Stephen Hawking and bra-billionaire Les Wexner (of Victoria’s Secret). He also spent time with impecunious teenage girls who were engaged to “massage” him. Mary (not her real name) made as much money in an hour at Epstein’s mansion as she could over several weeks at Mickey D’s. She was 14 when she was invited into Epstein’s lair.

The reader should be forewarned that this is not a seemly saga on many levels. Keep a can of Lysol handy. The testimony of Epstein’s “masseuses” to police meanders from soft porn to more graphic fare and goes on page after page. These sections comprise the longest stretches in a book otherwise organized into many scanty chapters, a few barely a page.

The point of lengthy verbatim accounts appears to be, in part, to shame Epstein, whom the authors believe (journalists John Connolly and Tim Malloy co-wrote the book with top-billed Patterson) didn’t get the punishment he deserved. The book makes a solid case for that assessment. Most of the women who told their stories to the police never got to testify in the half-hearted (at best) prosecution of Epstein, including “Alison, who claimed that she had been raped,” Patterson et al write. She also told police that Epstein bought her a new car. Such sordid details also serve to fill out a modest-sized opus.

Backed by a “dream team” of lawyers — among them Alan Dershowitz (who defended O.J. Simpson and Claus von Bülow) and Ken Starr (whose investigation of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky led to his impeachment) — Epstein pleaded guilty to state felony offenses for solicitation of prostitution and the procurement of minors for prostitution. By doing so Epstein avoided the possibility of facing much more serious charges.

Epstein received an 18-month sentence, but served barely a year. His agreement with federal prosecutors also set up a procedure that allowed his many victims to sue in civil court for compensation. He was branded a sex offender and is required to register with authorities wherever he goes.

In jail, Epstein was granted “work release,” which allowed him to leave prison six days a week for 16 hours a day, Patterson writes. He opines that the deal Epstein and his minions finagled from the American legal system was “so sweet it could have rotted all the teeth in South Florida.”

Having properly skewered his subject, Patterson, who got his start as an advertising executive, devotes his final 15 pages to the promotion of one of his fictional books. This is odd, but somehow a fitting end to a somewhat disjointed hodgepodge.