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When the US president pardoned a convict...
Merril Diniz |
January 27, 2005
ohn Grisham's latest novel, The Broker, is not spectacular.
But it is still a decent read for Grisham fans as well those who care to devour this genre of fiction.
Here is the basic premise: the once-arrogant, flashy Washington power broker and playboy Joel Backman, is now languishing in jail, serving a 20-year sentence for a white collar crime he tried to commit six years ago.
At the cost of putting his country's security in jeopardy, he attempts to sell a software designed by three Pakistani computer scientists.
The highest bidder wins and Backman gets a share of the pie worth billions of dollars.
The software is precious because it is capable of manipulating the most sophisticated surveillance system in the world, one that is not owned by the United States of America.
Backman pleads guilty when a partner is brutally killed and takes with him, to prison, many explosive secrets.
Where is the software? Who owns the system? The CIA wants answers.
They hatch a scheme and get the outgoing president to grant a last minute pardon to Backman.
According to the deal, he will be shipped off to a new location and given a new lease of life.
His new home? Italy. To help him kickstart his new life, Backman is inducted through language classes, history lessons, an orientation of Italian customs, cuisine, so on and so forth.
Backman's efforts at mastering Italian and playing his new character, Marco Lazzeri, to perfection are engaging as well as insightful, in that they bring to light the predicament faced by people who must erase their past and take a crash course in being a new person.
The CIA monitors his every move, and when the time is right, they plan to leak the news to the Chinese, Israelis, Russians and Saudis.
What they really want to see is who kills him. Backman, of course, is the bait.
Six years in prison have made Backman thinner, but his instincts are still razor sharp. He trusts no one, with the exception of his son who lives in America.
Backman flees and turns fugitive, with a bevy of forces hungry on his trail.
The plot thickens finally.
I suggest you read the rest.
The narrative is slow and, at times, insipid.
Grisham's other novels like The Firm, A Time To Kill, The Street Lawyer and The Chamber grip you right from the start, possibly because the protagonist's role is established early in the book.
The protagonist wins your trust and interest quickly by virtue of his goodness, his sense of strategy and his dashing personality. There is also the triumph of good over evil, which makes things comfortably predictable.
But The Broker is a different tale. Various forces are at play. The CIA, the FBI, the Israelis, the Saudis, the Chinese, the media, politicians -- and, in the heart of the storm, Joel Backman, a man who used to swear by money, power and women, each force more manipulative and vindictive than the other.
You are almost halfway through the novel before you realise that Joel will eventually become the good guy.
Grisham experiments by marrying law with espionage and downplays any emotional excesses.
In a way, this book is quite refreshing in a world where sensationalism is the order of the day.