10 October 2005

The Broker, by John Grisham

I've finished the book. Now I find myself thinking about this project: What, exactly, am I trying to accomplish here?

One objective here is to begin a job I regret not beginning 40 years ago. I have read many books and many short stories. I've enjoyed most of them. Many have provided me with some of the greatest pleasures I've experienced in life. But I have no record of all of that reading. Here I can keep track of what I've read and enough information about it to remind me of it when I look back at this later.

Another thing I find myself thinking about is criticism. Should I include my judgement of the overall quality of the book, its strengths, shortcomings, etc.? Should I be comparing it to other works and placing it in its literary context?

I'm hardly qualified as a literary critic. I have no degree and no experience. My reading has been mostly guided by my own likes and dislikes. Sometimes I just wander the stacks of a library and pick up books that look interesting, other times I read or hear reviews of things that sound like they'd be good, so I go find them. So what' s the value of my opinion about any given work?

I'm not sure; I think I'll just hack at this for a while and see what it becomes.

So, what about The Broker?

A good entertaining read. The Last Juror was more thoughtful, had more to say about the nature of humanity. This one is mostly a thriller, sort of a Robert Ludlum book. Better than Ludlum, but that's not praise.

The main character is Joel Backman, the "Broker" of the title. He's a hotshot lobbyist in DC that's suddenly convicted of a serious crime and packed off to Federal prison. After serving 6 years, the President (President Morgan, an ineffectual moron) pardons him. He's spirited away to Italy by the CIA. The director of the CIA -- an old, unhealthy man -- orchestrates all this, including the pardon. Backman's crime is related to the attempt to sell control of a mysterious spy satellite system discovered by some Pakistani computer science students who hacked its control system. Now that Morgan's term of office is over, the CIA wants Backman pardoned among the customary pardons issued by an outgoing president. They hope to place him in a poorly hidden foreign location and watch to see who kills him. In this way, they hope to discover who is responsible for placing the satellite system in the first place, and other salient information about foreign intelligence operations around the world.

I'll try some criticism: The plot's good, I doubt I could have thought it up. The pace is uncertain, a bit slow at times. Details are a little sloppy. Character development is poor, and I had a hard time believing in most of the characters. The descriptions of Italy and its food were delightful, and made me want to go there. I read and enjoyed the whole thing, it was very entertaining. Did it change my life? I don't think so. Did I learn any basic truths about humanity or life from it? I don't think so.

The ending is disappointing; I expected more of a coup.

But I'll read the next thing John Grisham writes -- he's a dependable good writer.

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