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John Grisham is an author that you just can't ignore. His many novels are ubiquitous and are common sights at bookstores in particular at airports and train stations. Grisham's speciality, helped by the fact he used to be a lawyer, is fiction that involves attorneys, courtrooms and government activity. This novel is no different and involves an elaborate spy plot, one involving greedy lawyers and the CIA, that has global implications.
Joel Backman is the hero or anti-hero of the novel, depending on whether you can forgive his behaviour and inherent arrogrance. He is a mature broker from Washington who has made a deal to sell spy sattelite controlling software to the highest bidder, regardless of the implications to his country's security. It is refreshing to have an older man at the core of the action. At the beginning of the novel the United States president (a thinly veiled George Bush type) pardons Backman in an attempt to smear the incoming president. The government agencies see Backman's release as an attempt to discover who infact (which country) authored the malicious software. They intend to allow Backman to be murdered before he can admit to anyone which country is responsible.
When Backman is smuggled to Italy the novel settles into a quiet pattern. The story really focuses the heart and mind of Backman and his ability to survive his post-prison, in-hiding existence. I was quite impressed by Backman at this stage of the novel. He seemed to have redeemed himself and I admired his strength and determination to succeed in a new life situation. He is a broken man after a hideous stint in prison and seems to have emerged reasonably meek, less self-absorbed and very strong minded.
The period of adjustment goes on a little too long though. Information about what Backman thinks or feels is restricted and instead we are treated to endless passages of how he is learning Italian. I found the conversations that take place between the characters at this point to be almost like reading a language lesson book! There is a lot of the same material re-written over several chapters which makes the story seem long and needlessly drawn out. There is a romantic sub-plot that never really gets underway. There is also copious information about the landscape of Italy and of the tourist landmarks frequented by the protagonist. There is much to dream of and admire but ultimately there is too much of it and it is like looking through a holiday brochure.
There is no real doubt about where the story is headed and when Backman is finally forced to run for his life there is a burst of exciting material. I wouldn't say it is heart in the mouth kind of writing but there is a thrill in the chase that makes this the best part of the novel.
I was extremely dissapointed and almost confused by the ending of the novel. I feel that Backman seems to revert to his pre-prison persona - the greedy, reckless, womaniser who did the dirty on his country and his family. I truly feel that the man we see at the end of the novel is a man that we have never seen until that point. His behaviour at the end of the novel makes me feel bitter about having supported him throughout the previous chapters! Of course, Grisham intends Backman to be seen as strong and as able to cope as only he can given his circumstances. It is possible other readers may feel differently to me about this, but I just did not like the Backman we are shown at the novel's end.
This novel has no real twists or turns and there is only a brief period of suspense. I thought there could have been a wonderful romance or story of character redemption but both of which never come to fruition. I felt very intrigued with Backman during the middle of the novel but felt his story was not concluded in a satisfactory manner. Ultimately I have read better novels by Grisham - I'd suggest The Runaway Jury- and would suggest only reading this if you are starved of other reading materials!
Its strange, given my love for the genre, that I have never came across John Grisham's work. I am not a complete stranger to the name, seeing as half a dozen of his novels have been turned into fairly questionable films. On holiday this year though, I picked up this book from the hotel library. It was about the only book that didn't come from the Jackie Collins school of romance fiction. Was I pleased with my choice?
Having been given a pardon by the outgoing president, Joel Backman is freed from prison six years after he was convicted of trying to sell a program that compromised government secrets. Packed off to Italy, he is given an entirely new identity and a small amount of cash to tide him over. Escorted by a protector from the CIA, he is taught the language in order to settle into quiet Italian life without drawing attention to himself. Unbeknown to himself though, he is being geared up as bait so that the US government can trace the owners of the secrets that he attempted to sell. Apparently, its not a question of him dying, but merely a question of which government will get to him first. He isn't a stupid man though, and soon works out that he isn't just being given a free get out of jail card. He will pay for his freedom, it just isn't clear yet how much the cost will be.
This book plays cat and mouse not only with its characters, but with its readers as well. As an introduction to Grisham's work, its pretty solid. His grammar is a noticeable let down in places, words missing from sentences, and occasional mis-spellings. Grievances like that are tossed aside though when the story itself is a labyrinth of spy expose. Grisham himself acknowledges in his footnotes that it might not necessarily be factually accurate, and even jokes that any accuracy is purely accidental, an aside to the fact that such books might just make him a target for a CIA assassination. Its nice to know that he has a sense of humour.
Inserted into the book though is a stunning description of the city of Bologna, and graphic descriptions of the architecture there. This is extremely well written, and blends nicely with the story to create a background that enhances the notion of just how out of place Joel actually is there. It is a lengthy portion of the book though and sometimes falters the pace of the book. However, it does create a world for Joel to exist in where he can attempt to flea his potential captors.
The dialogue is well-written, although Joel Backman is the only character who is given a fully 3 dimensional character. Other characters are created as fodder for his plight, and at times seem dull and uninteresting. Even the main characters are all given ulterior motives, making them somewhat disengaging. Another issue with the characterisation is that Joel's new found alter-ego Marco is written as a very different person from the wily Joel that we are introduced to early on and then in the latter chapters.
Despite its very obvious flaws, the pay-off is deftly written, and manages to surprise and regain some interest lost some of the way in. Grisham may not be the best writer in the world, and his film adaptations are considerably boring, but the man isn't short of imagination, and has weaved a terrific tale with enough layers to keep it complex without being contrived.
Disgraced former lawyer Joel Backman is freed from prison and forced to flee to Italy. Meanwhile sinister agencies, aware of his release, are trying to locate and assassinate him.
In recent years, John Grisham has increasingly moved away from the areas he is most familiar with (the courtroom and the American Deep South) in search of new storylines. Whenever he does, these tend to be his weakest books (A Painted House and Bleachers being a case in point). Sadly, The Broker does nothing to suggest this pattern is going to be broken any time soon.
Although its not as bad as some of Grishams other novels, The Broker does have a lot of problems. Principle amongst these is the fact that the plot is pretty dull and extremely flimsy. Theres very little sense of excitement to be found anywhere in the book and Grisham deals with his subject matter in a very turgid, pedestrian fashion. The copy of the book I read had about 350 pages. Yet for 200 of these, virtually nothing happened and at times, it was really heavy going. Grisham constantly hints at the possibility of danger, yet this is never fully realised. In fact, the brief summary Ive given you at the start of this review would pretty much allow you to skip a large chunk of the book and cause you no difficulties whatsoever! With no sense of excitement and no sense of danger, you have to really motivate yourself to turn over the page and start the next chapter.
Even when things finally start to buck up (around page 300 or so), the excitement is very short-lived. Just when you think Backmans past is going to catch up with him, a very dull game of cat-and-mouse ensues, which is artificial, drawn out and ludicrously boring. There are far too many coincidences and near-misses for my liking, and they strain the books credibility. Worse still, Grisham gives away plot strands before theyve even been properly introduced. He uses phrases like The closest Backman came to being captured was , telling you in advance that he will escape this particular incident alive. This instantly destroys what limited dramatic tension the storyline might have had. The actual ending continues this trend and is understated and boring. By this stage, though, you wont care - youll probably just be glad that the books finally over.
The dull plot is compounded by equally boring characters that its difficult to care about. Much of the reason for this is because they are all deeply selfish and unlikeable. They barely seem to have a redeeming feature between them and this makes it very difficult for you to identify with them. Considering the whole plot hinges on whether or not Backman can survive, its a serious issue when you couldnt care less one way or the other!
Compounding all of this is the writing style. Grisham is never going to win any awards for great literature, but normally, his prose is compact, to the point and free of unnecessary descriptions,. This means the plot can fizz along nicely, leaving you little time to get bored. Here, though, Grishams flair seems to have deserted him and the language is intent on mirroring the pedestrian nature of the plot. Most of the book is set in Italy (mainly Bologna) and you could sometimes be forgiven for thinking that you were actually reading a guidebook of the city. We are treated to lengthy descriptions of the architecture of Bologna and the customs of its natives; we endure geography lessons on its location or history lessons regarding its past. Much of this is totally irrelevant and seriously slows down the pace of the book. Either Grisham is so in love with Bologna that he wants us to share his passion, or he realises the book is very light on plot and needs to include this filler to make the book long enough to justify publication.
Grisham also develops an annoying habit of getting his characters to speak in Italian. Fair enough, you might think they are in Italy, after all. The problem lies in the fact that he repeatedly insists on giving the Italian, then providing an English translation. Again, this just slows the pace of the book down with unnecessary words. Surely it would have been better to do it once, then allow the reader to assume that all future conversations are in Italian, unless stated otherwise. At times, you feel like youre back at school and having a language lesson! Its either that, or Grisham is simply trying to show off what a clever boy he is because he can speak Italian.
Finally, European readers may find the book slightly patronising. Its clearly been written with the American market in mind and for an audience that is not particularly well-travelled. European customs and ideas are explained (and a couple of times, he seems to have slightly strange ideas about European customs!), which further adds to the sense that you are reading a travel guide. Unintentionally, this gives the book a slightly xenophobic feel to it at times, as though the sophisticated Americans are having a bit of a laugh at their backward European cousins.
So, is there anything to redeem the book? Well, its certainly not the worst book Ive ever read. In fact, its not even the worst Grisham book Ive read. Overlong though it is, there is some interest to be had in finding out how the plot finally resolves itself, even if its not the best in the world. Equally, a couple of the more minor characters have cropped up in previous Grisham books, so theres an element of interest in catching up with them. Other than that, it would be difficult to recommend the Broker to anyone other than die-hard Grisham fans.
Arrow Books, 2005
ISBN: 0099457164 (paperback)
The books can be bought new from Amazon for £5.24 or bought second hand for around £1
© Copyright SWSt 2007
Imagine if you were put in a position where you know that pleading guilty to an offence that you did not commit and signing up to twenty years of jail is going to keep you safer and happier than remaining at large in the real world. This is the life of Joel Backman, a once powerful broker, who people believe has obtained secrets that could compromise the world's most sophisticated satellite surveillance system, JAM.
Backman is surprised when he is visited in jail and is informed that the outgoing President intends to grant him a pardon for the crime he has plead guilty to. Backman is suspicious of this development, but when he is put on the spot to make a decision, opts to take the pardon. Though acutely aware that something is not right about this pardon, nobody is aware that it comes as a result of the CIA exercising an enormous amount of pressure on the soon-to-be ex-President.
Backman is smuggled out of the country and halfway across the world to Italy and is given a new identity and a new name. Much to his amazement, Joel Backman is renamed Marco Lazzeri and has become an Italian national - even though the only words he knows are "spaghetti", "pizza" and "pasta".
Unbeknownst to Marco, the CIA intends to leak his location to the Israelis, the Russians, the Chinese and the Saudis at the same time - all of whom would like to uncover the secrets that he holds. The CIA's intent? To sit back and watch who will chase Marco down and kill him.
The story does sound promising, especially when reading the comments by the Daily Mail, the Independent and the Sun on the back of the cover that promise in turn "You have to know what happens next " ; "A killer-combination of sheer story-telling nous and no-nonsense prose" and "nail-biting!". I simply could not agree with any of these comments once I embarked on this read that I wished I had never begun.
The story spans 465 pages, and it is not exaggerated when I say that I would have easily managed to edit at least 250 of those pages, cutting it down to somewhere between 200-250 pages of enjoyable material. Reading this latest installment of Grisham's was almost like watching paint dry. Sure, there was the mild excitement of why Backman was pardoned and there was the slight suspense of whether or not someone would hunt down and kill Backman - but there was a huge middle part of Backman's days in Italy that simply did not provide any excitement or enjoyment. Everything that happens in Italy happens in slow motion - perhaps a tribute to the laid-back Italian style of life?
Some have commented that this is part of the beautiful story-telling, but to be honest, I do not buy a Grisham novel or a novel with an exciting summary plot on its sleeve to then get pages and pages of a character lunching in different cities of Italy, exploring the sites and learning the beautiful Italian language. If I wanted to read this kind of story, I would buy a heavier book from an author known for such stories - not from an author who is known for writing spell-binding and gripping storylines. At the very least I would expect to be warned on the back of the book that I am embarking on a slightly tedious journey through Italy. But then again, this would probably would have dropped the number of sales by a considerable amount.
The characters in the storyline are mostly bland, though I did really enjoy the character of Joel Backman. I liked how the once powerful broker was suddenly put in a very humble place, having to struggle to save his life and having to do things he would have never done in the past. I liked how he transitioned back into this powerful character for a split second of a moment before having to go into hiding again. In many ways, he reminded me of a mix of Harrison Ford in "The Fugitive" or Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer in "Series 24" - and I would only cast the former for this spectacular role due to his slight seniority.
In fact, "The Broker" struck me exactly as that - an ideal starting point for a movie script. I can see the story working on screen in an exciting way that did not work in the novel. In a film, I would spend maybe 20 minutes on the "setting of the scene", 20 minutes on the "journey through Italy" and the remaining time on what was sadly crammed into the last 100 odd pages of excitement in the story that actually kept my interest.
The last 100 or so pages are indeed brilliant, interesting, exciting and satisfying for the reader. But I simply cannot emphasise enough that to get to the tip of the iceberg, it is necessary to wade through pages and pages of junk. This is certainly not worth anyone's time. My recommendation? See if they do make a film out of this. That would be time better spent.
Price: £6.99 (new paperback)
A spineless novel (The Broker)
Do we call a book spineless as in a body, there is spine (Spinal Cord)
supporting all parts of the body. I have read Novels by Graham Green, Robert Ludlum, Alistair Maclane, Earle Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie, Sidney Sheldon, James Hadley Chase, Nick Carter etc., etc.,
Does the Title Bourne Identity convey any meaning to the plot of the said novel, does the 36 steps hold a meaning to the plot, The title THE WORD by Irwin Wallace, THE MAN THE R DOCUMENT and some novels by John Grisham : THE CHAMBER, RUNAWAY JURY , THE FIRM THE LAST JUROR.
So spine in my words mean the central theme or the meaning of the title of the book inside the plot or it is relevant to the story.
Every good writer writes about Espionage, maybe with this thought Grisham took up this task, as anyone involved in Espionage is not allowed to talk and those who read about it will have to swollow everything.
Espionage has very wide scope, if used well.
There are some flashes of Grisham in the narrative , but alas only flashes are not worth my money, I paid for a full Grisham.
Is a beautiful city, it was nice to read about it, there are almost 150 pages devoted events in Bologna out of 466 pages total, I have a good place in my heart for this city, I want to see it soon in the future. Towards the very end there are some shades of brokering by
I only enjoyed greed of Backman trying to sell NEPTUNE as a
service to so many countries. A chance to make money makes us forget Right and Wrong.
Backman being kept on a leash in Italy to see who will kill him !! what will that prove ? Why should Sam Tin kill the greedy 3 Pakistanis ? Why not pay them and take back Neptune Bob Critz = Ex Press Secratery, Cheif of Staff, National Security Advisor, Secratery of State killed because he will compromise an operation whose grand purpose is to see who
will kill Backman. Is that Stooby or what ?????
Its laughable that Backman breaks his leash , meets Major Roland and does not get killed after all, HA HA HA HA !!!!
There is waste of man hours, finance, gadgets, plannings, objectives of so many professionals I dont digest it, I dont care about my stomach, refusing to digest it is my birth right.
After the END, Grisham read his book felt guilty and apologized and he being a lawyer covered himself nicely from the wrath of his angry fans !!!
Very mundane novel with lots of irrevelant details contrary to the plot.
Beware dont go anywhere near this book. Instead buy yourself a nice, Italian Pizza with the money.
In the Author's Note there is the following disclaimer: "It's all fiction.. I know very little about spies, electronic surveillance, satellite phones, smartphones, bugs... If something in this novel approaches accuracy, it's probably a mistake" and also: "Im more terrified of high-tech electronic gadgets today than a year ago". Reading this makes me ask my self, Why then did you write this book? Well further in the Note, we find that it was his love for Bologna (The city that the plot is centered in) is what he really did research and came to love. That is why instead of legal thriller.. we have now ended up with.. an Italian Guide Book with a dash of a spy story.
"The Broker" is drenching in all things Italian. From its edible delicacies, to its art and also endless (and I mean endless) amounts of story where the main character is just learning and repeating Italy's language. You end up thinking.. I should keep reading because?
The Broker is the survival story of a man named Joel Backman. He was an extremely powerful person who had political connections like no one else and could "open any door in Washington". Sitting at this high position and making ten million dollars a year, he came to be known as "The Broker". Now, this was him before he was incarcerated for a variety of things, including treason.
All of this because he received access, to a few men who could control the most powerful satellite surveillance system ever created. He then tried to broker a deal selling it to the highest bidder, before being caught by the federal government. Backman accepted prison, seeing as how it is his only refuge because nasty people including the the Saudis, Russians, Chinese are all trying to get their hands on him. Since he is the only person with knowledge of where the operating disks, that control that satellite, are found.
The plot thickens when we find out that his own government has a plan on retrieving that information. After many years in prison, the CIA's director devises a plan to get him pardoned. With the broker free it becomes open season on Joel Backman, for all those who want his special secret.
Well if you read the summery on the book.. surely you would think that this is a thriller. Indeed it is.. some where in between all the clutter. The book is one part spy novel and three parts educational. An education on the Italian culture as well as the city it self. Now, I did like learning a few tid bits, like the fact that you dont order capuchinno after lunch because: "what a shame to drink one after eating so much.. with all that milk in it". You have an espresso as an alternative. Also, learning how beautiful Bologna is, that is not bad at all. Yet, when you give us pages and pages of this stuff, it gets to be tedious and redundant. If I wanted to learn about Italy.. I would get a Dummy's Guide to Italy. What I was really searching for is a solution to the problems found in his previous book, "The King of Torts". But no, none of that. All we have here is a sluggish book that has little suspense, slow pacing, and not a legal thriller. The worst thing is that it is not at all legal or not at all a thriller.
While the book was an easy read and informative, it was lacking in most things including the characters. They are much lacking in the likeability factor. Much like "King of Torts, the main character comes off as smug and pretencious. Grisham writes as if by the end of the book we "should" like this previously shady person but gives us no motive for doing so.
If, of any consolation, the ending was relatively satisfying. Not holding much surprise, it was a delight that it ended better than the story began. (specially better than the middle.) So if you plan on reading "The Broker" I suggest that you hold off on it and read something more worth your wild.. like John Grisham's "The Pelican Brief". That book has the legal stuff, has the suspense stuff, and has the power finish. When it comes to "The Broker" that should be left to the hard-core Grisham fans.. their the ones who will probably be disappointed but not feel entirely dejected.
(This is a review that was originaly posted on epinions.com on Nov 21 '05 found in
http://www.epinions.com/content_211825430148 were I write also by the pen name of zenmachado)
In his final hours in the Oval Office the outgoing President grants a controversial last minute pardon to Joel Backman, a notorious Washington power broker who has spent the last six years hidden away in a federal prison. What no one knows is that the President issues the pardon only after receiving enormous pressure from the CIA. It seems that Backman, in his power broker heyday, may have obtained secrets that compromise the world's most sophisticated satellite surveillance system. Backman is quietly smuggled out of the country in a military cargo plane, given a new name, a new identity, and a new home in Italy. Eventually, after he has settled into his new life, the CIA will leak his whereabouts to the Israelis, the Russians, the Chinese and the Saudis. Then the CIA will do what it does best: sit back and watch. The question is not whether Backman will survive - there's no chance of that. The question the CIA needs answered is, who will kill him?