Before he was sent to federal prison for treason (among other things), Joel Backman was an extremely powerful man. Known as "the broker," Backman was a high roller--a lawyer making $10 million a year who could "open any door in Washington." That is, until he tried to broker a deal selling access to the world's most powerful satellite surveillance system to the highest bidder. When caught, Backman accepted prison as the one option that would keep him safe and alive, since the interested parties (the Israelis, the Saudis, the Russians, and the Chinese) were all itching to get their hands on his secrets at any cost. Little does he know that his own government has designs on accessing that information--or at least letting it die with him. Now, six years after his incarceration, the director of the CIA convinces a lame duck president to pardon Backman, and the broker becomes a free man--and an open target.
The Broker marries the best of John Grisham's many talents--his ability to immerse himself in the culture of small town life (in this case, Bologna, Italy), and his uncanny mastery of the chase. The first half of the book focuses on Backman's transformation from infamous power broker to helpless victim in his own game. Upon his release from prison, Backman is taken into "protective custody" and whisked off to Italy where he is assigned a new identity, and a tutor to help him blend in. Sure he is on the run, but some readers may feel that Backman's time spent in Bologna is a bit too leisurely--readers join him on an almost cinematic tour through the Italian town, complete with language and history lessons. Impatient readers will be happy to know that the final half of the novel is classic Grisham--a fast-paced, thrilling cat and mouse chase pitting Backman against the numerous agencies that want him dead--as the broker makes a move to take back his life. --Daphne Durham
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From Publishers Weekly
Readers will find an amiable travelogue to Italy and its charms in Grisham's latest. What they won't find are the suspense and inspired plotting that have made the author (The Last Juror
, etc.) one of the world's bestselling writers. Yet Grisham remains a smooth storyteller, and few will fail to finish this oddball tale of what happens to ruined D.C. powerbroker Joel Blackman, 52, when he's suddenly released from federal prison after six years. Teddy Maynard, legendary CIA director, has engineered the release in order to put Joel into a variant of the witness protection program and then see who kills him. Many want him dead—the Saudis, the Israelis, especially the Chinese—because of his role in trying to sell a global satellite spy system that would alter the world's balance of power; that was what got Joel imprisoned, and the CIA hopes that whoever kills him will clue them in to who may have access to the satellites. Joel is relocated to Bologna, and much of the narrative consists of his touring that city, its historic sights and its many restaurants, and learning Italian ways from his male handler, Luigi, and his language tutor, Francesca—a middle-aged woman with whom he falls in love. A major subplot concerns Joel's secret dealings with his stateside son to prepare for escape from Bologna if necessary. Eventually, the CIA leaks Joel's whereabouts to his enemies, who dispatch killing teams. Can Joel broker his way to safety? There's some depth to the troubled relationship between Joel and his tutor, but otherwise the novel reads like a contented afterthought to a memorable Italian vacation, with little action or tension, plastic characters and plot turns that a tricycle could maneuver. Still, anyone wishing to learn how and why Bologna built its famed porticos, why to be wary of most Italian desserts and how to send an encrypted wireless message using a global cell phone will find that information cheerfully given here. (Jan. 11)
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