In his final hours in the Oval Office, the outgoing President grants a controversial last-minute pardon to Joel Backman, a notorious Washington power broker who has spent the last six years hidden away in a federal prison. What no one knows is that the President issues the pardon only after receiving enormous pressure from the CIA. It seems Backman, in his power broker heyday, may have obtained secrets that compromise the world’s most sophisticated satellite surveillance system.
Backman is quietly smuggled out of the country in a military cargo plane, given a new name, a new identity, and a new home in Italy. Eventually, after he has settled into his new life, the CIA will leak his whereabouts to the Israelis, the Russians, the Chinese, and the Saudis. Then the CIA will do what it does best: sit back and watch. The question is not whether Backman will survive—there is no chance of that. The question the CIA needs answered is, who will kill him?
About the Author
John Grisham lives with his family in Virginia and Mississippi. His previous novels are A Time to Kill, The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, The Chamber, The Rainmaker, The Runaway Jury, The Partner, The Street Lawyer, and The Testament.
Hometown:Oxford, Mississippi, and Albemarle County, Virginia
Date of Birth:February 8, 1955
Place of Birth:Jonesboro, Arkansas
Education:B.S., Mississippi State, 1977; J.D., University of Mississippi, 1981
Read an Excerpt
In the waning hours of a presidency that was destined to arouse less interest from historians than any since perhaps that of William Henry Harrison (thirty-one days from inauguration to death), Arthur Morgan huddled in the Oval Office with his last remaining friend and pondered his final decisions. At that moment he felt as though he'd botched every decision in the previous four years, and he was not overly confident that he could, somehow, so late in the game, get things right. His friend wasn't so sure either, though, as always, he said little and whatever he did say was what the President wanted to hear.
They were about pardons—desperate pleas from thieves and embezzlers and liars, some still in jail and some who'd never served time but who nonetheless wanted their good names cleared and their beloved rights restored. All claimed to be friends, or friends of friends, or die-hard supporters, though only a few had ever gotten the chance to proclaim their support before that eleventh hour. How sad that after four tumultuous years of leading the free world it would all fizzle into one miserable pile of requests from a bunch of crooks. Which thieves should be allowed to steal again? That was the momentous question facing the President as the hours crept by.
The last friend was Critz, an old fraternity pal from their days at Cornell when Morgan ran the student government while Critz stuffed the ballot boxes. In the past four years, Critz had served as press secretary, chief of staff, national security advisor, and even secretary of state, though that appointment lasted for only three months and was hastily rescinded when Critz's unique style of diplomacy nearly ignited World War III. Critz's last appointment had taken place the previous October, in the final frantic weeks of the reelection onslaught. With the polls showing President Morgan trailing badly in at least forty states, Critz seized control of the campaign and managed to alienate the rest of the country, except, arguably, Alaska.
It had been a historic election; never before had an incumbent president received so few electoral votes. Three to be exact, all from Alaska, the only state Morgan had not visited, at Critz's advice. Five hundred and thirty-five for the challenger, three for President Morgan. The word "landslide" did not even begin to capture the enormity of the shellacking.
Once the votes were counted, the challenger, following bad advice, decided to contest the results in Alaska. Why not go for all 538 electoral votes? he reasoned. Never again would a candidate for the presidency have the opportunity to completely whitewash his opponent, to throw the mother of all shutouts. For six weeks the President suffered even more while lawsuits raged in Alaska. When the supreme court there eventually awarded him the state's three electoral votes, he and Critz had a very quiet bottle of champagne.
President Morgan had become enamored of Alaska, even though the certified results gave him a scant seventeen-vote margin.
He should have avoided more states.
He even lost Delaware, his home, where the once-enlightened electorate had allowed him to serve eight wonderful years as governor. Just as he had never found the time to visit Alaska, his opponent had totally ignored Delaware—no organization to speak of, no television ads, not a single campaign stop. And his opponent still took 52 percent of the vote!
Critz sat in a thick leather chair and held a notepad with a list of a hundred things that needed to be done immediately. He watched his President move slowly from one window to the next, peering into the darkness, dreaming of what might have been. The man was depressed and humiliated. At fifty-eight his life was over, his career a wreck, his marriage crumbling. Mrs. Morgan had already moved back to Wilmington and was openly laughing at the idea of living in a cabin in Alaska. Critz had secret doubts about his friend's ability to hunt and fish for the rest of his life, but the prospect of living two thousand miles from Mrs. Morgan was very appealing. They might have carried Nebraska if the rather blue-blooded First Lady had not referred to the football team as the "Sooners."
The Nebraska Sooners!
Overnight, Morgan fell so far in the polls in both Nebraska and Oklahoma that he never recovered.
And in Texas she took a bite of prizewinning chili and began vomiting. As she was rushed to the hospital a microphone captured her still-famous words: "How can you backward people eat such a putrid mess?"
Nebraska has five electoral votes. Texas has thirty-four. Insulting the local football team was a mistake they could have survived. But no candidate could overcome such a belittling description of Texas chili.
What a campaign! Critz was tempted to write a book. Someone needed to record the disaster.
Their partnership of almost forty years was ending. Critz had lined up a job with a defense contractor for $200,000 a year, and he would hit the lecture circuit at $50,000 a speech if anybody was desperate enough to pay it. After dedicating his life to public service, he was broke and aging quickly and anxious to make a buck.
The President had sold his handsome home in Georgetown for a huge profit. He'd bought a small ranch in Alaska, where the people evidently admired him. He planned to spend the rest of his days there, hunting, fishing, perhaps writing his memoirs. Whatever he did in Alaska, it would have nothing to do with politics and Washington. He would not be the senior statesman, the grand old man of anybody's party, the sage voice of experience. No farewell tours, convention speeches, endowed chairs of political science. No presidential library. The people had spoken with a clear and thunderous voice. If they didn't want him, then he could certainly live without them.
"We need to make a decision about Cuccinello," Critz said. The President was still standing at a window, looking at nothing in the darkness, still pondering Delaware. "Who?"
"Figgy Cuccinello, that movie director who was indicted for having sex with a young starlet."
"Fifteen, I think."
"That's pretty young."
"Yes, it is. He fled to Argentina, where he's been for ten years. Now he's homesick, wants to come back and start making dreadful movies again. He says his art is calling him home."
"Perhaps the young girls are calling him home."
"Seventeen wouldn't bother me. Fifteen's too young."
"His offer is up to five million."
The President turned and looked at Critz. "He's offering five million for a pardon?"
"Yes, and he needs to move quickly. The money has to be wired out of Switzerland. It's three in the morning over there."
"Where would it go?"
"We have accounts offshore. It's easy."
"What would the press do?"
"It would be ugly."
"It's always ugly."
"This would be especially ugly."
"I really don't care about the press," Morgan said.
Then why did you ask? Critz wanted to say.
"Can the money be traced?" the President asked and turned back to the window.
With his right hand, the President began scratching the back of his neck, something he always did when wrestling with a difficult decision. Ten minutes before he almost nuked North Korea, he'd scratched until the skin broke and blood oozed onto the collar of his white shirt. "The answer is no," he said. "Fifteen is too young."
Without a knock, the door opened and Artie Morgan, the President's son, barged in holding a Heineken in one hand and some papers in the other. "Just talked to the CIA," he said casually. He wore faded jeans and no socks. "Maynard's on the way over." He dumped the papers on the desk and left the room, slamming the door behind him.
Artie would take the $5 million without hesitation, Critz thought to himself, regardless of the girl's age. Fifteen was certainly not too young for Artie. They might have carried Kansas if Artie hadn't been caught in a Topeka motel room with three cheerleaders, the oldest of whom was seventeen. A grandstanding prosecutor had finally dropped the charges—two days after the election—when all three girls signed affidavits claiming they had not had sex with Artie. They were about to, in fact had been just seconds away from all manner of frolicking, when one of their mothers knocked on the motel room door and prevented an orgy.
The President sat in his leather rocker and pretended to flip through some useless papers. "What's the latest on Backman?" he asked.
In his eighteen years as director of the CIA, Teddy Maynard had been to the White House less than ten times. And never for dinner (he always declined for health reasons), and never to say howdy to a foreign hotshot (he couldn't have cared less). Back when he could walk, he had occasionally stopped by to confer with whoever happened to be president, and perhaps one or two of his policy makers. Now, since he was in a wheelchair, his conversations with the White House were by phone. Twice, a vice president had actually been driven out to Langley to meet with Mr. Maynard.
The only advantage of being in a wheelchair was that it provided a wonderful excuse to go or stay or do whatever he damn well pleased. No one wanted to push around an old crippled man.
A spy for almost fifty years, he now preferred the luxury of looking directly behind himself when he moved about. He traveled in an unmarked white van—bulletproof glass, lead walls, two heavily armed boys perched behind the heavily armed driver—with his wheelchair clamped to the floor in the rear and facing back, so that Teddy could see the traffic that could not see him. Two other vans followed at a distance, and any misguided attempt to get near the director would be instantly terminated. None was expected. Most of the world thought Teddy Maynard was either dead or idling away his final days in some secret nursing home where old spies were sent to die.
Teddy wanted it that way.
He was wrapped in a heavy gray quilt, and tended to by Hoby, his faithful aide. As the van moved along the Beltway at a constant sixty miles an hour, Teddy sipped green tea poured from a thermos by Hoby, and watched the cars behind them. Hoby sat next to the wheelchair on a leather stool made especially for him.
A sip of tea and Teddy said, "Where's Backman right now?"
"In his cell," Hoby answered.
"And our people are with the warden?"
"They're sitting in his office, waiting."
Another sip from a paper cup, one carefully guarded with both hands. The hands were frail, veiny, the color of skim milk, as if they had already died and were patiently waiting for the rest of the body. "How long will it take to get him out of the country?"
"About four hours."
"And the plan is in place?"
"Everything is ready. We're waiting on the green light."
"I hope this moron can see it my way."
Critz and the moron were staring at the walls of the Oval Office, their heavy silence broken occasionally by a comment about Joel Backman. They had to talk about something, because neither would mention what was really on his mind.
Can this be happening?
Is this finally the end?
Forty years. From Cornell to the Oval Office. The end was so abrupt that they had not had enough time to properly prepare for it. They had been counting on four more years. Four years of glory as they carefully crafted a legacy, then rode gallantly into the sunset.
Though it was late, it seemed to grow even darker outside. The windows that overlooked the Rose Garden were black. A clock above the fireplace could almost be heard as it ticked nonstop in its final countdown.
"What will the press do if I pardon Backman?" the President asked, not for the first time.
"That might be fun."
"You won't be around."
"No, I won't." After the transfer of power at noon the next day, his escape from Washington would begin with a private jet (owned by an oil company) to an old friend's villa on the island of Barbados. At Morgan's instructions, the televisions had been removed from the villa, no newspapers or magazines would be delivered, and all phones had been unplugged. He would have no contact with anyone, not even Critz, and especially not Mrs. Morgan, for at least a month. He wouldn't care if Washington burned. In fact, he secretly hoped that it would.
After Barbados, he would sneak up to his cabin in Alaska, and there he would continue to ignore the world as the winter passed and he waited on spring.
"Should we pardon him?" the President asked.
"Probably," Critz said.
The President had shifted to the "we" mode now, something he invariably did when a potentially unpopular decision was at hand. For the easy ones, it was always "I." When he needed a crutch, and especially when he would need someone to blame, he opened up the decision-making process and included Critz.
Critz had been taking the blame for forty years, and though he was certainly used to it, he was nonetheless tired of it. He said, "There's a very good chance we wouldn't be here had it not been for Joel Backman."
"You may be right about that," the President said. He had always maintained that he had been elected because of his brilliant campaigning, charismatic personality, uncanny grasp of the issues, and clear vision for America. To finally admit that he owed anything to Joel Backman was almost shocking.
But Critz was too calloused, and too tired, to be shocked.
Six years ago, the Backman scandal had engulfed much of Washington and eventually tainted the White House. A cloud appeared over a popular president, paving the way for Arthur Morgan to stumble his way into the White House.
Now that he was stumbling out, he relished the idea of one last arbitrary slap in the face to the Washington establishment that had shunned him for four years. A reprieve for Joel Backman would rattle the walls of every office building in D.C. and shock the press into a blathering frenzy. Morgan liked the idea. While he sunned away on Barbados, the city would gridlock once again as congressmen demanded hearings and prosecutors performed for the cameras and the insufferable talking heads prattled nonstop on cable news.
The President smiled into the darkness.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
While I still call myself a Grisham fan - especially with the goofy cartoon characters that appear in his prose - this book didn't work for me for two reasons: 1- Too much time and energy is spent on the Italy experience. It came across as an Italian travel commercial. 2- Like 'The Brethren', since there was no real protagonist to root for, by the end I didn't care a flying fig how the story came out. I didn't feel the slightest bit of empathy for Joel. Teddy was a sadistic piece of work. Luigi was too cardboard to be of any help. The one engaging relationship - the love interest - was drawn far too subtly for my liking. C'mon - the guy was in prison for six years... would you want to look at porticos for two hundred pages? Extremely disappointing. Terribly.
I read this book and loved it! I felt that Grisham really grabbed my attention right from the beginning on this one. From the late night pardon all the way to the trip back to Italy to find the lady who saved Joel's life, it was unescapable!! I bought the audio to listen to while at work and I listen to it over and over. This book is worth the read!
True to John Grisham, a totally unexpected ending.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I was glued from the get-go and didn't want it to end. I wanted to know what happened after. I enjoyed reading about parts of Italy and learning a little Italian too - what fun.
This book had potential, but fizzles. Was Marco supposed to be changed into a decent human being by the end? Didn't happen. I never did care for his whiny, self-serving attitude toward everyone he met (including his son). Add to that the fact that the plot became a non-event instead of a climax. I don't need every loose end tied up, but come on! He's hunted by the best, and within one page he very easily catches a plane to DC, waltzes around hotels, & cuts a deal. Who knows where the Tin Man even is (might have gotten the name wrong, I've forgotten already!). Don't make such a big deal about the guy if he's not a player. That said, I didn't mind the tourist info and the language lessons - but he could have tied it into the story a little better (Dan Brown has a REASON for giving all those details). To the reviewer who complained that Francesca's description of the art and buildings was 'straight from a tour guide': well ... Francesca IS a tour guide. Think that might be why? Anyway, too many undeveloped secondary characters too. (Madame from the train for ex.) That said, I bet I'll still buy his next one I bet.
Well written character study. Grisham is a master story teller even when he diverts from his normal legal genre.
If you like John Grisham, he won't disappoint in this story.
Good reaad nice book bit slow
This book is easy to read. Yet I found it a little lengthy in the way it describes Bologna and Italy as well the experience of the main character in learning the Italian language. However I enjoyed learning some Italian vocab and since I like traveling describing Italy too much is not a big deal. The Story becomes more interesting and fast toward the end of the book. I guess the author compensates by a fast moving and thrill ride action toward the end of the book.
A straight-forward thriller from Mr. Grisham that just doesn't deliver much in the way of thrills. It flows along reasonably well, bogging down only occasionally for travelogue. I had it in the audio book version and it ate up its share of miles. I'd probably have given it a 3-star "well, it passed an afternoon" except for the very unsatisfying ending: abrupt, more than a bit unbelievable and, once one thinks about it, inconclusive.
I have read fewer than a half dozen Grishams. This one is quite engaging. The protagonist Joel, Marco, whoever, is likable in spite of the fact that he is a confirmed criminal and a traitor. Lik...e so many people, when he personally experiences the fear he generates, he has a change of heart. Like Playing for Pizza much of the story is set in Italy, giving something of a Ludlumite authenticity to the spycraft. The book is entertaining, though it is nobody's classic. A fun read.
Avg. legal thriller, not his best
I love espionnage; I love Italy - this was a great match!
I've never been much of a Grisham fan, just never thought I'd enjoy his books. About a year ago I picked up a pile of Grisham books for cheap. It's taken me a year, but I've now finished my second Grisham novel. I must say this was enjoyable. Only thing wrong with this, is the ending. While it wrapped up nicely in once sense, it left a lot of dangling threads. This seems more like book 1 of a trilogy or something instead of a standalone. But nevertheless, I enjoyed this and will read my way through the rest of the Grisham novels sitting on my shelf over the next year or so.
Pretty good book actually. The usual thriller stuff but definitely readable.
Definitely within the realm of a John Grisham novel. Lots of legal stuff, intrigue. I enjoyed the book in the fact that it gave me ideas for my own writing. It offered insight into what people consider good writing. The person reading the book sounded interesting. Maybe if I get a book published, he'll read mine. :>I do say it is a worthy listen.
Not a bad story, but reading all the Italian dialog (followed by English translations) got annoying after awhile.
John Grisham has brought us a succession of nail-biting thrillers including A Time to Kill, The Firm, The Partner (3.5 stars) and The Street Lawyer (4.0 stars). The Broker, however, turns out to be a thriller without very many thrills. There are a couple moments of tension, but they are so mild and scattered that they don¿t provide any real trepidation. This seems strange considering the plot of the book has nearly every intelligence agency in the world intent on killing the main character. As if that were not enough, Joel Backman¿s own CIA handlers want him dead. To top it off, Joel has little money and even less training, yet he appears more than capable of strolling right past everyone with surprising little effort even though everyone knows where he is. I never felt like he was in any kind of real jeopardy even when he should have been in all kinds of real jeopardy. Instead, most of the forces against him just fall out of the story without any explanation. At one point, Grisham describes in detail one of the most diabolical assassins in the world, only to leave him out of the rest of the story. I suppose he must have gotten lost.Instead of a thriller, the meat of the book is really a character piece where we watch Joel try to blend into the northern Italian college town of Bologna. Taking the name `Marco,¿ he learns to speak, dress and ¿ more than anything ¿ eat like a native Italian. This turns out to be the strongest part of the book. Grisham does a nice job of painting a picture of the northern Italian lifestyle and giving a guided tour of its history that feel very organic to the story. In fact, if he had written something akin to A Painted House, it might have been a fascinating character study in a beautiful location. Unfortunately, he stuffed it inside of an espionage thriller that simply didn¿t come off. The plot holes and anticlimactic ending certainly didn¿t do the story any favors, either. But while I can¿t say that I really liked the book, I can¿t say that I disliked it either. There was something about the character of Joel Backman and his attempt to integrate with Italian life that made the story tolerable. Also, Grisham¿s polished writing moves along easily which prevents the story from becoming a monotonous bore. If it is already sitting on one of your shelves and you want to learn some things about northern Italy, it might still be worth sitting down with it. However, it is not one of Grisham¿s better books.
Grisham has been a bit off his mark with the last couple of books, buthe's back in stride with this one. It's a thriller and has lawyers init, but it's not his typical legal thriller.Joel Backman was a power broker, a high profile lawyer turned lobbyistin Washington who has clawed his way to the top, living hard, spendingmuch, and leaving broken lives and marriages in his ruthless path. Butwhen three young Pakistani men come to him with a discovery that willset the world's governments on their collective ears, he peddles thesecrets to several governments at once, greedy to the end, and managesto touch off a firestorm that leaves his law firm in shambles, a senatordead, and indictments ready to be handed down against not only him, buthis son. He pleads guilty to lesser charges and is quietly shipped offto federal prison to serve a 20 year sentence in solitary confinement.Six years later, the political wheels in Washington have turned andother power hungry men are eager for his blood. So, bargains are madeand an outgoing disgraced president grants him a full pardon at thebehest of the CIA and he finds himself spirited out of the prison in themiddle of the night, bundled onto a military plane and headed to Italyfor a new life, with a new name and a bunch of mysterious new "friends"who will teach him to speak the language and to blend in with the peopleof the city of Bolgona. But something isn't quite kosher in this newsetup and he is under constant surveillance. His own government issetting him up for professional assassins from at least five countriesand the CIA intends to sit back and wait to see which one gets himfirst, trying to solve the biggest mystery to hit the US government indecades.This book is fast paced and has more twists and turns than a Georgiacounty backroad. It's well written and moves right along. It was goodall the way up to the last page, but it felt as if it ended tooabruptly, leaving you to imagine exactly what's going to happen next.Still, it was pretty good and I'll give it a 4.
This was a good airplane read. Fast. A bit formulaic.I really liked the descriptions of Italy, some of character descriptions were very good and some felt rushed, unfinished.The ending felt like it was slapped together at the last minute before going to print - lacking in character and place descriptions, some connections.There were just too many unfinished threads left dangling...Not a re-read by any means, but I would recommend this book to Grisham fans or someone looking for a quick mystery/espionage read.
Enjoyed it a lot. Grisham at his best.
An entertaining story with a fast moving plot. I had an urge last week to read a story by John Grisham and The Broker was my selection. Before that I had read "The Summons"(It was a fair read). I don't read his novels in sequences which fortunately for someone like me there is no need, because each of Mr. Grisham's books will stand on their own. I thought The Broker was an easy read that was very entertaining. There was a lot of intrigue woven into a fast moving plot. I thought the class room instructions on the topography of Italy and the language was a bit too much. Actually, this part of the book got really boring. The main character, Joel Backman gave me fits. I never was really sure if he was decent sort of a fellow or just a down right crook. I could never get the feeling that I should root for him or just hope for his quick exit from the story. In summary, there were parts of the story that I didn't care for, but overall I thought it was real decent book that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to all my friends.
Joel Backman is "the Broker"--a Washington power broker-lobbyist. Then his empire collapses when a deal collapses involving a hacked spy satellite that nobody acknowledges, and Backman ends up in jail, broke.Six years later, he's pardoned by a lame duck President, and whisked away to Italy by the CIA. Everyone's after him, including the CIA, though they're more interesting in finding out who kills him than in either killing him themselves or keeping him safe.So Backman is completely out of his element, under constant surveillance, and kept deliberately short of money and paperwork so he can't run far, even if he tries. But he didn't get to be "the Broker" by being stupid, either.This was a fairly low-key suspense book, but I enjoyed the transformation from wealthy cold-hearted power broker to someone who's dependent on others for everything, and who's learning to reevaluate his priorities. It was also quite lovely to revisit Italy.
This was a wonderful, quick read. Highly recommned it!