Novelist sends his imagination inside the Bohemian Grove

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“I’ve never been inside the Bohemian Grove,” Mark Joseph readily admits. But for a disciplined researcher and experienced novelist, that’s no barrier. In his fiction, he can go anywhere.

Famous worldwide and yet intensely private, the annual summer encampment for wealthy, elite titans of industry and politics has sparked protests and conspiracy theories, but what goes on inside the enclave remains shrouded in secrecy.

“They’re extremely discreet about it, and nobody knows much. It’s fascinating. They’re a private club and what they do in there is nobody’s business, although a lot of people try to make it their business. So, I began to wonder what it would be like to live next-door to them,” Joseph said.

For his sixth novel, “Monte Rio,” available on Amazon this month, the Vallejo author imagines what might happen if the FBI approached a band of local Russian River eccentrics, who have made a close study of comings and goings at the grove, to help test and improve security at the midsummer gathering.

“I have rewritten this book many times,” Joseph said. “I started doing research in the early 2000s. I know the history. I know what is true and I know what is bull----. The Bohemian Grove encampment sounds like just what Herbert Hoover called it, and that’s ‘The Greatest Party on Earth.’”

Joseph, 72, has long been fascinated by both the annual Bohemian Grove encampment, founded in 1878, and its parent organization, the Bohemian Club in San Francisco.

“The Bohemian Club itself is an interesting phenomenon. It’s a very staid, old-fashioned, wood-paneled, men’s club in downtown San Francisco that happens to own this 2,700-acre playground in the redwoods,” Joseph said.

“I first came across the Bohemian Club when I was a student at Cal decades ago and discovered that Mark Twain was a founder of the club,” he recalled. “I was studying Mark Twain in the rare book room at the Bancroft Library at Cal.”

Despite his extensive research, muckraking was never Joseph’s goal.

“I don’t go out of my way to expose Bohemian Grove rituals,” he said.

“Monte Rio” quickly moves beyond factual research but the book is not intended to be an indictment or even a satire of the Bohemian Grove, but rather a playful and purely speculative adventure.

“I started making up characters. I called them the Russian River Society of Pirates and Thieves. These four guys listen to all the government agencies on the radio. When the Bohemian Club has its summer enclave, there’s this surge of radio traffic. Plus, there’s 2,000 guys inside the grove having their party but there’s always half a dozen of them going outside somewhere, and my fictional heroes follow them,” Joseph said.

“In my story, what happens is the government knows all about the Russian River Society of Pirates and Thieves, and the FBI decides to co-opt them help improve security at the grove.”

Inspired by the real grove’s 120 individual camps, bearing eccentric names like the Hillbillies, Joseph created his own group of grove campers.

“I made up a bunch of camps, and a group of characters who belong to one camp, called Ye Olde Owls. They’re all oil barons, and together they have bribed the president of Belarus to let them build this gigantic oil facility in his country, which pisses off the Russians. In my stories, there’s always a Russian somewhere in the background,” Joseph said.

The grove group invites Joseph’s fictional foreign president, Boris Dimitriov, to come visit the summer enclave.

“He’s quite a character,” Joseph said. “If there’s ever a movie version, I envision him being played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

Working from that starting premise, the author has entangled both the Russian River Society of Pirates and Thieves and Ye Olde Owls in a fanciful and often funny plot.

There have been no movie versions of Joseph’s books so far, but the author has a track record as a writer of this kind of story.

Joseph’s first novel, the Cold War thriller “To Kill the Potemkin” was originally published in 1986. The paperback edition spent four weeks on the New York Times best-seller list in July and August of 1987. His other novels include “Typhoon” and “Deadline Y2K.”

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or On Twitter @danarts

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