In his final hours in the Oval Office the outgoing President grants a full pardon to Joel Backman, a notorious Washington power broker who has spent the last six years hidden away in a federal prison. It's a controversial move, but what no one else knows is that the presidential pardon comes as a result of enormous pressure from the CIA. They claim that Backman may have obtained secrets that compromise the world's most sophisticated satellite surveillance system.
Reviewed on 4th December 2011
In this novel, John Grisham really seems to show through as passionate about what he's writing, something which has seemed lacking in the last few of his books that I've read. Joel Backman, in prison for 20 years, suddenly receives a Presidential pardon and is shipped off to Italy with a new identity to hide from those who would rather his knowledge was not available.
Okay, so the plot seems rather tenuous and a bit of a construct to set up the trip to Italy, but then without it there would be no excuse to write about there. The beginning seems weak, as does the ending, but the middle of this book I really enjoyed. As soon as Backman, under his new pseudonym, arrives in Italy Grisham really starts to get going. It reminds me a lot of Playing for Pizza, the first of John Grisham's books that I read, obviously because of the setting, but also because the author really seems to want to engage with what's happening.
I think it also helps that he's writing for an american audience about a foreign place - whereas in some of his novels set in the US there seems to be a level of assumed knowledge that isn't quite right for a British reader. This means he really works hard to paint a scene and depict the feeling of the settings for someone who hasn't been there. It's Grisham's first attempt at an espionage novel - it's almost not even a legal thriller at all - and I thought he did very well. The pace is good and both sides develop in step, but I got the feeling that some of it was unnecessary and was there just as an attempt to ratchet up the tension where it wasn't needed.
Overall, I loved the portions set in Italy - alone those would get five stars, but with the slightly shaky plot surrounding it I'm afraid it drops down to a four, though despite this, to me it's one of Grisham's best.