THE BROKER by John Grisham

No doubt about it, John Grisham is a cracking storyteller, and “The Broker” is a gripping read from start to finish.

This is one of the least “legal” of Mr. Grisham’s novels (at least amongst the ones I have read) and even though the broker in question is indeed a lawyer, he is more of a political lobbyist. Joel Backman is in fact one of the most powerful men in Washington, the ultimate high-flyer, a man who wheels and deals at the highest echelons of the Washington power structure.

Until he ends up in jail, that is, disbarred, bankrupt and in solitary confinement.

One of the last acts of possibly the most ineffective US President ever, is to pardon Joel Backman, at the apparent behest of the CIA, who immediately fly him out of the US and off to Bologna in Italy, under an assumed name and with a handler, Luigi, whose sole mission is, it would appear, to get Joel to learn Italian as quickly and effectively as possible.

There is a lot of Italian in this book, and a lot of wandering through the historic city of Bologna which, one can only imagine, Mr. Grisham loves a lot.

The contrast between Italy and the US is often highlighted, be it the food, the long lunches, the smoky cheek-by-jowl tables in cafés, and we spend many a happy hour in Joel’s company as he discovers a new city, a new country, a new language and a whole new way of life.

But danger is never far away, and Joel Backman is soon on the run – but from whom?  His own country, in the guise of the the CIA and/or the FBI?  Or someone else?

To answer those questions would obviously be a major plot-spoiler, so I won’t.

Suffice it to say, you are gunning for Joel Backman all through this exciting, fast-paced book, and as he ducks and dives and weaves to escape from something he doesn’t fully understand, you the reader are hooked.


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And, yes, one day I definitely intend to visit Bologna, inspired by Mr. Grisham…


The books I had taken on a holiday up in the mountains were finished, so I poked around on my host’s book-shelves.

“Is this one any good ?” I asked, holding up a copy of “One shot”.

“Um, don’t know, can’t remember.  Let me have a look.”

Re-reading the enthusiastic blurb on the back cover, my host said, a tad dubiously “Yes, I think so.  Sort of forgettable, but good.”

And so it was.

I have to admit that I had never heard of Lee Child, and felt suitably chastened and humbled when I read a quote from Bill Clinton.

As in the Bill Clinton.  “I love Jack Reacher.”

Jack Reacher, in case there are any more un-Lee-Child-savvy people out there, is the hero of what would appear to be a torrent of successful novels.

“One Shot” is easy holiday reading, though rather too detailed in a bloke-y way for me, to be honest.  There’s a lot of technical talk about guns and ammo, so you get passages like the following :

“It was a Springfield M1A Super Match autoloader, American walnut stock, heavy premium barrel, ten shot magazine, chambered for the .308…It was loaded with Lake City M852s…”

You take my point.

It’s a good entertaining whodunnit with characters who all act as they should do – criminal Russian mafia, corrupt city officials, brave heroine, laconic hero – and the plot is clever, if a tad convoluted at times.

And the writing is as rapid-fire as the many bullets that feature in the novel.

“The man with the rifle drove north. Not fast, not slow.”  Lots of sentences without verbs, presumably to give a staccato effect.

A good holiday read. No more, no less, as Lee Child might well have put it.

The paperback is published by Bantam Books and costs £7.99.

To buy the book right now, simply click on one of the links below. 

Couldn’t be easier. (This Reacher speak is quite addictive…)