Grisham, John. The Broker.

NY: Doubleday, 2005.

This is one of Grisham’s lighter, non-courtroom yarns, and it’s pretty good. Joel Backman (the wheeling-dealing lobbyist and power broker of the title) was about to go to trial for various sorts of bribery and international corruption six years ago, and was giving as good as he got, but then he suddenly pled guilty and practically fled to a federal prison for protection. Various other governments, both theoretically friendly and definitely otherwise, would like a piece of him, all because of a super-secret surveillance satellite system high-jacked by a group of hackers — and to which Joel now has the only software key.

Now the President is about to leave office (having carried only Alaska during the election — and that was only because he didn’t visit that state during the campaign) and is sorting through the traditional stack of pardon requests. And Teddy Maynard, Director of the CIA (a loathsome type who has showed up in a couple of Grisham’s other books), wants a pardon for Backman. They’ll park him in Europe somewhere (safely off U.S. soil) and then wait to see who kills him. They expect to be able to draw various conclusions from this and Backman will be out of everyone’s hair forever.

So off Joel goes to northeastern Italy (an area the author himself is very fond of, no surprise), where he becomes “Marco Lazzeri,” Canadian by birth and Italian by ancestry, supposedly there on an extended vacation and to learn the language. His handlers plan to drug him and work him over to get the information they couldn’t get legally six years ago, but Joel isn’t stupid and he manages not only to keep a certain degree of freedom while he begins to figure things out, he also makes a couple of local friends. Prison has changed him and he doesn’t want to be a power in Washington anymore. He just wants to be left alone — and to stay alive. And the feds are definitely going to have their hands full.

Grisham admits up front he doesn’t know beans about satellites, or the technical side of intelligence (this was made clear in The Racketeer), but it all sounds entirely plausible — especially the casual attitude of the CIA toward killing American citizens as a matter of convenience. Even though Joel was not a nice person in his earlier life, he becomes very sympathetic in his post-prison struggles. And the descriptive passages will make you want to hop a plane for Bologna.

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Published in: on 15 February 2016 at 8:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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