Of all the brand-name best-selling writers, I have heard more arguments from fans of Tom Clancy and John Grisham that begin, "His worst book is…"
On one hand, that's a measure of stature. Only a writer who generates passion in his fans could inspire such an argument. On the other hand, only a writer who has bitterly disappointed his fans more than once and written some really bad books would provide fodder for the discussion.
From now on, just saying "The Broker" might just be the two words that end any discussion of John Grisham's worst work.
Forget the implausibility of "The Pelican Brief" or "The Brethren." Forget the tedium of the first 200 pages of "The Rainmaker" or all of "Bleachers." Even fans who complain whenever Grisham strays from thrillers and tries something different like "A Painted House" and "Skipping Christmas" will stop their discussion after two little words: "The Broker."
As he always does when he delves into political themes, Grisham paints with such broad and silly strokes that you first wonder if "The Broker" is intended to be a full-blown satire.
In a future world where political parties apparently do not conduct polls or have primaries, President Arthur Morgan is a singularly stupid man who has just lost the White House after carrying only Alaska's three electoral votes. Now, in the last days in office, he is unabashedly selling pardons for cash.
The pardon that makes the biggest headlines and starts a corruption investigation, however, is the one that has nothing to do with Morgan's retirement fund - his unexplainable pardon of Joel "The Broker" Backman. Once a powerful Washington lobbyist and attorney, Backman was convicted of trying to sell secret technology to whichever bad guy would come up with the most dough.
Teddy Maynard, the wheelchair-bound CIA chief, wants Backman released, hoping to sit back and see who tries to kill the traitor. Because The Broker pled guilty and went to prison without a word, Maynard never knew who Backman was dealing with.
The CIA sets Backman up in Italy with a language instructor in what is supposed to be a witness protection program. The problem is, the reader has to go to language school along with Backman.
Thrillers set in Italy seem to be the thing right now (vis-a-vis Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code"), but Italy's history or religious culture has nothing to do with this plot. Instead, it seems Grisham spent some quality time in Italy and can't wait to share it with all of us. This is the literary equivalent of having to sit though someone's vacation pictures and listen to him prattle on for hours.
The first two-thirds of "The Broker" has about a half dozen important - though ridiculous - plot developments, and the rest is repetitive travelogue.
Once you read Chapter 6, you can skip at least six ensuing chapters and not miss a thing that you can't catch up on later - unless you are endlessly fascinated by Italian language lessons or description of little restaurants in Northern Italy, and their menus.
I've long suspected that best-selling authors don't get edited anymore, but someone should have taken a red pencil to whole chapters of "The Broker."
As for plot twists, to even call them "turns" would be an exaggeration. The events that happen in "The Broker" are as predictable and exciting as a senior citizen entering the left turn lane after driving with the blinker on for a half mile.
Nothing happens in "The Broker." The romance is insipid, the chase is dull, and the climactic manipulations are routine. Backman's redemption isn't much, either. He's guilty and sort of apologizes for treason by saying, "Sorry, I got caught up in the money."
Frankly, I'd rather just sit through a slide show of Grisham's Italian vacation.