<B>John Grisham's spy game</B> How would you feel if you found out the CIA wanted you dead? Anxious, to say the least. That's the situation facing Joel Backman, the character at the heart of John Grisham's latest novel, <B>The Broker</B>. Once again, Grisham delivers a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat thriller that's all the more gripping because it feels eerily close to real-life events.

Backman, a well-known Washington power broker, is doing time in a federal prison when the president unexpectedly grants him a last-minute pardon before leaving office (an act that may bring to mind the pardon of financier Marc Rich on Bill Clinton's final day as president). As it turns out, the pardon isn't entirely good news for Backman, who is deposited in Italy with a new name and a new identity. It seems that Backman has secret information about a satellite surveillance system, and a foreign government wants to kill him to keep the secret from getting out. The CIA plans to leak word of his new identity to the Israelis, the Russians, the Chinese and the Saudis then wait to see who kills him.

Readers the world over can't get enough of Grisham, who now has more than 60 million books in print. The Jan. 11 release of <B>The Broker</B> marks the 15th consecutive year that Grisham has published at least one book a year, and all have been bestsellers. This remarkable string of publishing hits started in 1991 with his breakout legal thriller, <I>The Firm</I>, and has continued with a dozen more suspense novels and occasional detours into other genres (<I>Skipping Christmas, The Painted House</I>).

In a rare interview, Grisham recently told <I>The Hook</I>, a newspaper in his adopted hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, that he planned to continue turning out legal thrillers for at least the next five years. I can't write romance or sci-fi or horror stories. [But] when you write about lawyers and the law, the material is endless, Grisham said. As long as legal thrillers are popular, I'll keep writing 'em.

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