Thursday, December 15, 2005

John Grisham: The Broker

By my count, The Broker is John Grisham's eighteenth novel. It is not one of his very best; in fact, by Grisham's standards it's a bit of a pot-boiler; but all that means is that it's head and shoulders above most of the other stuff on offer.

The plot concerns a high-powered Washington lawyer, known, naturally enough, as the Broker. At one point, a few years before the plot begins, the Broker over-reached himself, and was forced to choose between going to jail and being bumped off; so he opted for the former. Now, unexpectedly, he gets a presidential pardon.

The pardon has been engineered by the CIA, who confidently expect that, now that the Broker is out on the street again, someone will shoot him. But they want to see who does the job, in order to find out who was behind a plot to take over control of some very advanced spy satellites.

The remainder of the story deals with the question of whether the Broker will survive or not. Is he smart enough to talk himself out of the mess which, some years ago, his big mouth got him into?

The opening chapters are masterly, moving at a rapid pace. After that, things slow down. Indeed, were it anyone but Grisham in charge, one might also say that things would get bogged down; but Grisham keeps us interested.

I had one or two reservations about the credibility of the plot. To begin with, the CIA seem keen to drug the Broker with some sort of truth serum; but they abandon that attempt rather too easily for my taste. And there are other minor points.

None of this seems to have bothered Grisham's hard core of readers. There are, reportedly, 6 million copies of this book in print in the US, and it is currently top of the UK paperback lists, give or take a place or two.

At the end of the book Grisham has an author's note which is noteworthy in itself. The book, he reminds us, is all fiction. He made it up. He explains that he knows nothing about spies, electronic surveillance, satellite phones, and various other pieces of hardware which feature in the plot, and adds: 'If something in this novel approaches accuracy, it's probably a mistake.'

I warmly endorse this approach. I have often argued that all fiction should be regarded as taking place in a parallel universe, where the rules are slightly different from those which operate in our world. Mind you, all writers do have to be aware of that group of people for whom any deviation from accordance with reality -- particularly in technological matters -- is a cause for outraged objection. But mercifully there aren't too many of them.

One final point. In the course of this novel, Grisham provides us with numerous portraits of high-level US politicians, including a couple of presidents and various senators, heads of the CIA, et cetera. All of these people, as portrayed in The Broker, are either wholly corrupt, or completely incompetent, or both.

Just as well then, that Gresham reminds us at the end that he is writing fiction. Otherwise we might think that that was his assessment of real politicians. And that couldn't possibly be so, could it?

It is, after all, a readily verifiable fact that all US and UK politicians are persons of total integrity, unmatched ability, and unimpeachable reputation. You could trust them with your life, and with your children's future. Come to think of it, we do.


Anonymous said...

Cant comment bout "The Broker" ---yet, but I have a burning question, sure this was debated b4 my intrest in John Grisham novels, The Runaway Jury,in the film version why did the Author allow the issue change from the tobacco scam to arms scam?

Anonymous said...

I think the Broker was an OK book. But i found myslef to be bored while reading for most of the book. Other john Grisham books that i have read i have really liked but this one dident seem to interest me that much.

PS. I have a feeling that they changed the scam from tobacco to arms we because they thought it would be more interesting. just my thoughts.

rohit said...

Must be an enjoyable read The Broker by John Grisham. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.

Anonymous said...

The book is riddled with annoying mistakes. Zurich is not a 2 hour drive from Zug (it is just 30 minutes). Geneva, Stuttgart and Zurich are not 4 hours by train from Paris (all are 8+ hours by train). Munich is not 150km from Zurich (it is about 350km). The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) does not report to the CIA as stressed multiple times in the book but to the Department of Defense etc etc.