First edition cover
|January 11, 2005|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover, Paperback)|
|Pages||368 pp (hardcover edition)|
|LC Class||PS3557.R5355 B76 2005b|
The Broker is a suspense novel written by American author John Grisham and published in the United States on January 11, 2005. The novel follows the story of Joel Backman, a newly pardoned prisoner who had tried to broker a deal to sell the world's most powerful satellite surveillance system to the highest bidder.
Joel Backman is "the Broker"- a Washington power broker-lobbyist, considered by some to be one of the most powerful men in Washington. However, his life falls apart when a deal collapses involving a hacked spy satellite that nobody knows about, and Backman ends up in jail. Six years later, the political wheels in Washington have turned and other power-hungry men are eager for his blood. Bargains are made, and after an outgoing disgraced president grants him a full pardon at the behest of the CIA, he finds himself spirited out of the prison in the middle of the night, bundled onto a military plane, and flown to Italy to begin a new life. He has a new name and mysterious new "friends" who will teach him to speak the language and to blend in with the people in Bologna.
However, he soon realizes that something isn't quite kosher in this new setup, in that he is under constant surveillance. In reality, the CIA is setting him up for professional assassins from China, Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. They intend to sit back and wait to see who kills him, in an effort to solve the biggest mystery to hit the US government in decades: the question of who built this seemingly impenetrable and most advanced satellite ever. It turns out to be China; despite having low satellite technology, they stole the information from the U.S.
Backman barely survives several assassination attempts and manages to establish communication with his son, Neal. He escapes surveillance and returns to his home to contract a new deal with the US government. The CIA is told about the satellite, along with the taking of the satellite's program. In return, they agree to do what they can to get the countries targeting him to back off, though they caution him that some of them will not listen. Backman then covers his escape by pretending that he is resuming his old life, then quietly disappears, and presumably returns to Italy.
Literary significance and criticism
The book has been hailed by some critics as a return to form for Grisham, while others lament it as a superficial "trip to Italy" put into fiction form. A New York Times book review claimed that the description of an outgoing president who was "an idiot... but a clean one" seemed to be referring to President Bush, or perhaps to Bill Clinton's infamous last-minute presidential pardons in 2001. Nevertheless, The Broker made number one on the New York Times bestseller list.
The description of the town of Bologna, Italy, in the novel is quite accurate; however, it contains quite a few mistakes, some of which are rather embarrassing. For instance:
- The church dedicated to Saint Petronius is called "cathedral", but although it is the largest church in town, it has never been the cathedral of Bologna, as the author himself states elsewhere in the same book.
- It is explained that Bologna is nicknamed "the Red city" because it is the most deeply communist town in Italy. Actually, Bologna was nicknamed "la Rossa" ("the Red one") centuries before Marx was born, the word "communism" was invented, or the colour red was even associated with a political ideology. This nickname is because most old buildings in the town centre are red, since the earth of the local hills, when baked to make bricks, acquires this colour.
- One of the Italian teachers of the main character states that only two medieval towers are still standing in Bologna, because all the others were demolished by order of the local authorities in the nineteenth century. As any traveler may easily prove, numerous medieval towers are still standing in Bologna. Some of them are clearly visible from the places the main character visits, like Piazza Maggiore or the top of the Asinelli Tower. And the municipality has never systematically demolished any towers. The author probably confused a piece of information he read absent-mindedly somewhere: in 1917 (i.e. in the 20th century) the municipality had three towers demolished to build some new palaces; the decision in question was harshly criticised by some famous people of that time. To date, it is the only case of publicly demolished towers in town. Bologna still boasts its many towers and proudly shows them in guidebooks. One of them is a very elegant bed and breakfast, some are private property, one is included in a bookshop, one is part of a museum....
Another serious error lies in the orbital mechanics of the secret satellite system. The satellites are described as having an over-ground speed of 120 miles per hour, but are only 300 miles above the Earth's surface; this is physically impossible for low-orbit satellites, which need an over-ground speed of over 16,000 miles per hour (and an orbital speed of about 17,000 miles per hour) to maintain orbit. This error thoroughly undermines the technical premise of the book, which relies on both the low altitude and low speed of the satellites for them to achieve their amazing surveillance capabilities. A fundamental error of this magnitude is surprising for a major publisher, and for a writer of Grisham's caliber.
- The blurred man on the back is really John Grisham.
- '"Kwytemail", the secure e-mail system by which the Backmans communicate, is modeled after services such as Hushmail.