Who will kill him?
Roopinder Singh

The Broker
by John Grisham. Arrow Books. Pages 467. £ 2.75 (special Indian edition).

The BrokerJohn Grisham took a vacation in Italy, gained 10 pounds during an interesting gastronomically rich journey and wrote a book. By no means his best work, the latest offering from America's top storyteller makes one think that the book was not quite a priority with him this time.

Oh! Yes, it will still sell well, he will still be smiling when he looks at his royalty cheques, but many readers will turn pages in an effort to find the kind of mastery that has been displayed by Grisham in the past.

This is a somewhat implausible tale of a last minute reprieve that Joel Backman, once powerful, now notorious, Washington powerbroker serving a 20-year sentence for espionage and treason, gets from an outgoing US President at the instigation of the CIA, which is desperate to find out more about the a sophisticated satellite system that is so secret that it does not even know who owns it, and to what end.

Instead of pumping Backman full of "truth serum" and other goodies, the director proposes to pardon him, whisk him out the country, and once he is settled with a new identity, leak his cover and see who will kill him.

He is spirited out of prison, and sent off to sunny Italy, where he is immersed in things Italianólanguage, food, culture and customs. He learns never to order a cappuccino after 10.30 in the morning, and that espresso is for any time of the day.

But then, Backman, who has now become Marco Lazzeri, has not quite forgotten his past. He alone knows who owned the satellites, now rendered inoperative, that had been hacked by three Pakistanis, and where their original software is.

The book is a page-turner, but it lacks the finesse one associates with Grisham. The trademark courtroom scenes are absent, and the novel is not quite there. But the father-son relationship is well done, the teacher-taught rapport that becomes much more provides a poignant note.

Contrary to what a reader is lead to believe in the blurb, the ending is happy. Even if you pan the book later, you tend to read it through.