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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Off the shelf

• The Broker (John Grisham)

THE BROKER By John Grisham

Hardcover: 357 Pages,
Publisher: Doubleday (January 11, 2005)
Price : $39.90 (Singapore)

Review by Deepika Shetty

The only time I found John Grisham hard to read was when he left the legal terrain, albeit briefly (mercifully), to delve into 'A Painted World'. That work chronicled his childhood, which might be a fascinating read for some people but it was something that certainly didn't work for me.

So I'm only too glad that his offering this year has a lot to do with travel, food, legalese - yes there is a lawyer and time in a prison. 'The Broker' which can already be visualised into a rather dramatic motion picture has all these elements and a whole lot more. Its the story of Joel Backman, an extremely powerful lawyer who is sent to federal prison for treason.

Backman, is 'The Broker', the highly influential lawyer who was once making 10 million dollars a year. In fact, in his heydays his reach was so great that he could open pretty much any door in Washington. Things feel apart when he tried to broker a deal selling access to the world's most powerful satellite surveillance system to the highest bidder. Caught between the proverbial devil and wild sea, Backman accepted a life behind bars, since that was pretty much the only way to stay alive. Anyone would if they had the Israelis, the Saudis, the Russians and the Chinese gunning for their life.

Just as Backman convinces himself there is no life beyond prison, things change rather dramatically. It all happens six years after his incarceration. That's when the director of the CIA convinces a lame duck President to pardon Backman. While many would be happy in the change in circumstance, it can't entirely be said of the broker. He is at once a free man, a man on the run with secrets to hide and many people gunning for his life so that their secrets could remain safe with him.

Once The Broker is set free, the book takes a lovely leisurely pace that transports the reader into the lanes and by lanes of Bologna. There is food, history and the character of the place that come perfectly alive through Grisham's almost cinematic writing:
"In a country where a three-hundred-year-old house is considered new, time has a different meaning. Food is to enjoyed, even in a small deli with few tables... So he absorbed the roar of life without trying to understand any of it. He enjoyed its rhythm and cadence and laughter... Watching the families and friends made him lonely, though he refused to dwell on it."

If this isn't entirely your cup of coffee, fret not, because once Grisham is done with describing the heartily appetising Italian fare, the book takes on a course of its own in classic Grisham style. The thrilling cat and mouse chase pits him against the numerous agencies and countries than want him dead. Which, inevitably sees the protagonist make the bold move to get back what was once his life:
"If people were still dying, then it was urgent that he learn the verbs and adjectives scattered on his bed. Language meant survival and movement."

With language comes the romance, when Backman is transformed into Marco Lazzeri, an imperative for his very survival. It is his language teacher the icy Francesca who melts with his charms and helps make the run from Bologna.

Then there is the major subplot with involves Joel's secret dealings with his son to help him escape. It all begins with some carefully orchestrated letters that are passed on to unsuspecting travellers. One of the letters that he passed on, does get mailed and reaches his son and explains the desperation of his current situation:

"Dear Neal:
I'm safe for now but I doubt it will last. I need your help. I have no address, no phone, no fax, and I'm not sure I would use them if I could. I need access to e-mail, something that cannot be traced. I have no idea how to do this, but I know you can figure it out. I have no computer and no money. There is a good chance you are being watched, so whatever you do, you must not leave a trail. Cover your tracks. Cover mine. Trust no one."

But will this be enough for him to cover his tracks? Will this help him make the dash to real freedom and will he get another chance to broker the best deal of his life - one that'll guarantee his freedom.

Well, that's a lot of questions that can be best answered by the well-paced 'BROKER'.

Today, John Grisham is the undisputed champion of the legal thriller.

But things weren't always this way. Way before his name became synonymous with the modern legal thriller, Grisham was clocking in close to 70 hours a week at a small Southaven, Mississippi law firm.

While he had harboured dreams of being a professional baseball player, his future as a writer was made at the Dessoto County courthouse.
It was here that he overheard the harrowing testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim. This inspired him to start a novel exploring what would have happened if the girl's father had murdered her assailants.

Thus was born "A Time to Kill".

It took three years to write, several rejections followed and eventually it was bought by Wynwood Press. The conservative print run was 5,000 copies and it was eventually published in June 1988.

Undeterred by failure Grisham started work on 'The Firm', the story of a hotshot young attorney lured to an apparently perfect law firm.
The book stayed on The New York Times bestseller list for 47 weeks to become the bestselling novel of 1991.

Since then, Grisham had written one bestselling novel a year. Little suprise then that the Publishers Weekly dubbed him the "the bestselling novelist of the 90s".

He usually sticks to legal thriller, though with 'A Painted House', he moved into entirely new terrain. To quote Grisham himself, this novel had "not a single lawyer, dead or alive." Instead, Grisham relived his childhood through this quiet, contemplative story, set in rural Arkansas in 1952.

Grisham was born on February 8, 1955, in Jonesboro, Arkansas to a construction worker and a homemaker.

And here's a quick look at some of his life's work:

A Time to Kill. New York: Wynwood Press, 1989.
The Firm. New York: Doubleday, 1991.
The Pelican Brief. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
The Client. New York: Doubleday, 1993.
The Chamber. New York: Doubleday, 1994.
The Rainmaker. New York: Doubleday, 1995.
The Runaway Jury. New York: Doubleday, 1996.
The Partner. New York: Doubleday, 1997.
The Street Lawyer. New York: Doubleday, 1998.
The Testament. New York: Doubleday, 1999.
The Brethren. New York: Doubleday, 2000.
A Painted House. Oxford, Mississippi: The Oxford American (2000). New York: Doubleday, 2001.
Skipping Christmas. New York: Doubleday, 2001.
The Summons. New York: Doubleday, 2002.
The King of Torts. New York: Doubleday, 2003.
Bleachers. New York: Doubleday, 2003.
The Last Juror. New York: Doubleday, 2004.
The Broker. New York: Doubleday, 2005.

Motion Pictures:
The Firm. Director - Sydney Pollack. Paramount Pictures, 1993.
The Pelican Brief. Director - Alan J. Pakula. Warner Brothers, 1993.
The Client. Director - Joel Schumacher. Warner Brothers, 1994.
The Chamber. Director - James Foley. Universal Pictures, 1996.
A Time to Kill. Director - Joel Schumacher. Warner Brothers, 1996.
The Rainmaker. Director - Francis Coppola. Constellation Films, 1997.
The Gingerbread Man. Story by John Grisham. Director - Robert Altman. Enchanter Entertainment, 1998.
A Painted House. Director - Alfonso Arau. Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions and CBS-TV, 2003.
Runaway Jury. Director - Gary Fleder. New Regency Pictures, 2003.
The Street Lawyer. Director - Paris Barclay. Touchstone Television and ABC-TV, 2003.
Mickey. Director - Hugh Wilson. Original screenplay by John Grisham. Mickey Productions, 2004.
Christmas with the Kranks. Director - Joe Roth. Skipping Christmas Productions, 1492 Pictures, and Revolution Studios, 2004.
Based on the novel Skipping Christmas.

Television Shows:
The Client. 1995-96. Based on the novel and movie.
Deepika is a Producer with Prime Time Morning