Monday, March 30, 2015

2005: The Broker by John Grisham

The Author:

John Grisham (1955-    ) was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, the son of a construction worker. At the age of twelve, his family moved to Southaven, Mississippi.  He graduated with a B.S. from Mississippi State University in 1979.  He passed the Mississippi Bar exam in 1981, and received his J.D. from the University of Mississippi.  In 1981, he married Renee Jones, with whom he had two children. 

Grisham began a successful law practice in 1981, starting in criminal law, and moving to more lucrative civil law.  In 1984, he was elected to the Mississippi State House of Representatives, a position he held in addition to running his law practice.  A case he witnessed while in the state legislature led him to write his first novel, A Time to Kill (1989).  He had trouble finding an agent and publisher.  He eventually found both, and a limited run of 5,000 copies was printed of his first novel.  In 1990, Grisham resigned from his position on state legislature and retired his practice.  In 1991, Doubleday published his second novel, The Firm.  It was a massive commercial success, as were his third and fourth novels, The Pelican Brief (1992) and The Client (1993).  His fourth book, The Chamber (1994) is the first of eleven novels to become the number one annual bestselling novel in the U.S.

Since 1989, Grisham has published a total of 29 novels, five children's books, and a work of non-fiction.  His family splits its time between homes in Oxford, Mississippi, Charlottesville, Virginia, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  Grisham also serves as a board member on the Innocence Project. 

The Book:

Subject/Genre: espionage/legal 'thriller

The Broker begins with the outgoing president doling out last minute pardons when the CIA director shows up insisting he pardon Joel Backman, a high powered DC attorney and power broker in prison for conspiring to sell access to a cutting edge satellite system.  No one knows who the system belongs to, so the CIA director's plan is to use Backman as bait.  Whoever's system he has the keys to will want him dead.  This is point, only a couple dozen pages in, where the novel stops making sense.  Backman is smuggled out of the country, first to a military hospital in Italy.  That the CIA planned to 'interrogate' him there is made abundantly clear, but he won't let them give him any medication, nor will he eat or drink anything they give him for fear he'll be drugged.  To clarify, the CIA is willing to ship him halfway across the world and plan to have others kill him, but they ditch their plans to torture him because he won't willingly ingest any drugged food.  The CIA murder a former white house official in the middle of London to keep Backman's location secret, but they are unwilling to even touch a hair on Backman's head.

Backman is sent to a small city in Italy, and later Milan, where he is told he is given a fake identity.  He's told that he's being relocated and is given an intensive language course and taught local customs, ostensibly so he can live off the grid for the rest of his life.  All of which is at direct cross-purposes to the CIA's plans.  There's absolutely no benefit to teaching him any of this, except that it allows him to escape their grasp.  There's passage after passage about Milanese art, culture, geography, history, food, etc. etc., none of which Backman needs to know if the plan is to leak his location to any foreign governments who'd want him dead. My assumption is that somewhere in Grisham's tax returns is a month long Italian vacation written off as a work expense.

While I was a bit bored by most of his early novels, they at least had internal logic.  The characters and organizations had reasons to do what they did, reasons that made sense rather than just providing the opportunity for something else to happen later.  I spent the whole novel wondering why the CIA did any of the things they did, which would have been tolerable if Backman had at least been interesting.  But he's just a stock character, the same late-middle-age high-price high-power workaholic attorney that we see in nearly every Grisham novel.  String of divorces? Check.  Estranged children? Check.  History of avarice and ostentation that he now regrets? Check.  He's a boring character in an unnecessary situation.

I'm not sure who this book is aimed at.  If you like legal thrillers, it's not for you, and if you like espionage thrillers, this is a poor example.  I could only recommend this to Grisham completists.

Bestsellers of 2005:

1. The Broker by John Grisham
2. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
3. Mary, Mary by James Patterson
4. At First Sight by Nicholas Sparks
5. Predator by Patricia Cornwell
6. True Believer by Nicholas Sparks
7. Light from Heaven by Jan Karon
8. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
9. The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
10. Eleven on Top by Janet Evanovich

Also Published in 2005:

The Sea by John Banville
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka
Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

1 comment:

  1. I'll bet that when you started this project, filled with youthful enthusiasm, you didn't anticipate that you would end up slogging your way through the swamp of Grisham, Dan Brown, and--worst of all--Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins. A trip through the sewers of Paris would be more be a more pleasurable experience!