John Grisham

"The Broker"

(Reviewed by Sebastian Fernandez FEB 17, 2005)

"A fancy photo of Joel Backman in the black Italian suit, impeccably tailored and detailed and groomed and looking at the camera with as much smugness as humanly possible. The hair was longer and darker, the handsome face was fleshy and wrinkle free, the waistline was thick and spoke of many power lunches and four-hour dinners. He loved wine and women and sports cars. He had a jet, a yacht, a place in Vail, all of which he'd been quite eager to talk about. The bold caption above his head read: THE BROKER – IS THIS THE SECOND MOST POWERFUL MAN IN WASHINGTON?"

The quote above accurately describes what was the essence of the main character in this novel six years ago. But things have changed a lot for Joel Backman; when the narration starts he is in jail serving twenty years for treason. His luck is about to change though, since the wheels are turning in the White House. The outgoing president, Arthur Morgan, is in the final hours of his mandate after suffering a catastrophic defeat in the recent elections. Now he is deciding which pardons to grant and is receiving pressure from the CIA to liberate the Broker. In the narration of these early events we get a first glimpse of what Grisham is capable of achieving, since he catches the reader's attention through the use of a couple witty jokes and the portrayal of the corruption associated with the process of granting pardons.

The CIA interest in liberating Backman originates in the fact that the Broker is in possession of secrets that can seriously compromise national security. The agency's plan is to release the traitor, relocate him overseas to a foreign country and then provide the groups that want to kill Backman with information regarding his place of hiding. In that way, not only will they achieve the objective of keeping him silent, but the CIA will also see which group is most eager to kill the Broker. As the plan is set in motion, we start to get glimpses of Backman's previous life and information on the reasons why he ended up in jail. This is intertwined with the present, in which we find a changed person, who is fighting to survive and concurrently take advantage of this chance at a new beginning.

The Broker is transferred to Bologna upon his release, and Grisham spends a considerable amount of time describing the Italians, the life in this beautiful country, the luscious food, impressive scenery and seductive language. I perceived this as a break from the author's usual pattern of fast-paced action, when the level of suspense is high at all times. In this case, he focuses more on providing the reader with a comprehensive vision of the main character, allowing us to understand what drives the Broker's actions and how his previous experiences have changed the man. The interesting descriptions found in this part of the novel add a very particular flair to the story and help create a level of eagerness on the reader, who will be looking forward to the point in which the action will rush towards the end.

The other important difference this novel presents compared to other works by Grisham has to do with the genre. The author is characterized for writing thrillers in a legal setting, but in this case we are in the presence of a book that belongs in the espionage category. Grisham tried to change genres before, for example with Bleachers, where the main topic is sports, but in my opinion this attempt was not successful. But Grisham will not give up, and it seems to me that he is trying to prove to himself that he can write great books in other categories. In this case even though the quality is not excellent, as it was in The Firm or A Time to Kill, Grisham delivers a powerful novel that will satisfy those that are looking for something more than nonstop action. The only reason why this novel is not excellent in my opinion is that I felt the ending was a little rushed. If this section of the book had been better developed, the experience would have been even more satisfying.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 721 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Broker at the author's website

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Bibliography: (with links to

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About the Author:

John GrishamJohn Grisham was born in 1955 in Jonesboro, Arkansas; his father was a construction worker, his mother a homemaker. He majored in accounting at Mississippi State University and after graduating from law school in 1981, he went on to practice law for nearly a decade in Southaven, specializing in criminal defense and personal injury litigation. In 1983, he was elected to the state House of Representatives and served until 1990.

One day at the Dessoto County courthouse, Grisham overheard the harrowing testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim and was inspired to start a novel exploring what would have happened if the girl's father had murdered her assailants. Getting up at 5 a.m. every day to get in several hours of writing time before heading off to work, Grisham spent three years on A Time to Kill and finished it in 1987. Initially rejected by many publishers, it was eventually bought by Wynwood press, who gave it a modest 5,000 copy printing and published it in June 1988.

Then he began his second novel, The Firm. He became an overnight success when he sold the rights to Paramount Pictures for $600,000. The Firm also became the bestselling novel of 1991. The successes of The Pelican Brief, which hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list, and The Client, which debuted at number one, confirmed Grisham's reputation as the master of the legal thriller.

Grisham publishes one novel a year and six of his novels of been turned into films. He also wrote the original screenplay, The Gingerbread Man.

Grisham lives with his wife Renee and their two children, Ty and Shea. The family splits their time between their Victorian home on a farm in Mississippi and a plantation near Charlottesville, VA. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014