Doubleday, February 2005
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding
THE BROKER is John Grisham's latest thriller. This time around he has written a spy tale featuring a convicted Washington DC lawyer and lobbyist who receives a last-minute presidential pardon.
Joel Backman is serving a federal prison sentence in Rudley Federal Correctional Facility for trying to sell a software program that controls the Neptune Satellite System. The program would give the buyer a superior advantage: the ability to spy and gather intelligence on virtually everyone. No one knows who owns the Neptune Satellites. No one knows who launched them or controls them -- no one even knew they were there until three Pakistani students developed a program that could hijack them and give control to the highest bidder. But everyone wants them -- the Americans, the Saudis, the Chinese, the Israelis and the Russians. On the eve of the sale of the spy program, Backman's partner is killed and the lawyers at his high-profile law firm are arrested and charged with treason. Soon the lawyer known as "The Broker" is pleading guilty to all charges in exchange for protection and the release of his coworkers from prosecution.
Joel Backman has been imprisoned in solitary confinement for six years. He is stunned when he receives a presidential pardon from the outgoing president. The director of the CIA has arranged for him to enter the witness relocation program. Joel is given a new identity and put on a plane bound for northern Italy. The terms of his release mean he must walk away from his country and his family. When he arrives in Italy he is given two handlers to help him transition into his new life, Luigi and a language instructor Ermanno. But Joel immediately senses that something is wrong with this deal. It feels more like a setup and Joel's instinct for survival isn't far off, but he doesn't understand the game that is being played or the rules.
THE BROKER is an engaging spy thriller that pits Backman's intelligence and skills against the CIA and other uncertain threats. His slow awakening from life in solitary confinement to a man on the run for his life is engrossing. I loved the setting, especially the descriptions of the Italian foods and restaurants--this book should be read with a latte or a glass of wine in one hand and the book the other. Readers will enjoy and savor the language, the romance and the exotic atmosphere of Italy. Grisham's descriptions of locations even prompted me to go online searching for pictures of the famous piazzas and fountains.
The pace of this story transitions several times. The changes from prison to his new life in Italy are tense, but not really fast paced until about midway through when new threats cause things to accelerate. There is a light romantic story between Backman and a beautiful Italian tour guide, Francesca. I would have enjoyed seeing this relationship unfold further, but the ending comes too quickly. Grisham's reputation as a bestselling author is truly deserved and THE BROKER is an outstanding tale.
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