Book Review: ‘Perversion of Justice: The Jeffrey Epstein Story,’ by Julie K. Brown

“I didn’t want my family to look at me in a different way,” one woman, who was 16 when Epstein lured her into his web, told Brown. “I didn’t want them to think I was a whore.” She added, “What I really wanted was my parents to come and ask me what was wrong.” The women’s haunting voices echo off the page; their narratives are devastating.

Elsewhere, however, Brown falters. She weaves her personal stories into the narration of her Epstein reporting, and the crisscrossing timelines sometimes get tangled into confusing knots. She swerves between disarming candor and eyeroll-inducing cliché. At one point Brown begins to describe her understandable disappointment when her Herald articles weren’t even shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize — truly, she was robbed — but then thinks better of it. “I was aiming for something greater than a Pulitzer: justice,” she writes.

Brown awkwardly airs grievances with her editor and other Herald colleagues. (“Editors aren’t always very good humans,” she states.) The effect is jarring, like watching someone bad-mouth a person who is standing right behind her.

Readers hoping for answers to the many questions that continue to swirl around Epstein will be disappointed. How and when did he begin his life of crime? (“It’s difficult to know,” Brown writes.) How did he get so rich? (Brown cites previous reporting that identifies some sources of Epstein’s wealth, but she doesn’t dig further.) Why did Nobel laureates and presidents and billionaires continue to associate with him? Did they know about Epstein’s crimes? Did they participate? We don’t know.

Even a simple question, clearly close to Brown’s heart, is left unanswered: Why did Acosta and his Justice Department colleagues in 2008 let Epstein off the hook? Brown’s series raised crucial questions about what seemed like back-room deals, but in the intervening years she doesn’t appear to have made headway at figuring out what actually happened behind those closed doors. Were these public officials corrupt or inept? Who called the shots? We don’t know.

We are often left instead with insinuations. Brown litters her prose with passive verbs and carefully placed adverbs that give her room to imply cause and effect without proving it. This is the type of writing that I doubt would have survived The Herald’s editing and vetting processes. By design, such scrubbing is painful for reporters, but it bolsters the credibility of the finished product.

There’s a pivotal moment in 2008 when a court in Palm Beach County needs to sign off on the state’s plea deal with Epstein and then sentence him for his crime. The judge presiding over the case had a history of rejecting plea agreements. But the day of the hearing, for reasons that Brown isn’t able to pin down, a new judge is unexpectedly assigned to handle the matter. Brown describes it as “another break for Epstein that probably was no accident.” Unless, of course, it was. Again, we don’t know.

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