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By Nitish S. Rele

It’s 1996 and three Pakistani computer scientists are working to locate and attempt to access a new Indian spy satellite hovering 300 miles over Pakistan. This isn’t anything new: the Indians and Pakistanis have had satellite spy on each other’s army bases and troop movements for 10 years.

However, what caught the eye of the three scientists – by accident – was the discovery of another satellite, neither Pakistani nor Indian. The American-educated scientists codenamed the nine-satellite system as Neptune and were able to develop software that would enable the satellite to jam many of the navigation, communications and reconnaissance satellites already in orbit.

Neptune, whose owner is unknown, is quite unique because its resolution can produce images twice as sharp as the best European and American commercial satellites. Is it the property of China, Saudi Arabia, Israel or Russia?

This is where the protagonist of John Grisham’s newest book “The Broker” (Doubleday) comes into the picture. The three scientists seek out broker Joel Backman to tap into his marketing and lobbying talents, hoping to sell the software to the highest foreign government bidder.

But the software doesn’t end up being sold to any government. In fact, the three Pakistani scientists end up dead and Backman is sent off to federal prison for six years for trying to sell the Neptune system. However, in the final hours of a failed administration, the U.S. president is approached by the CIA to pardon Backman.

The CIA plans to smuggle Backman to Italy, while secretly spreading word of his whereabouts. This is the only way the U.S. can find out if the Israelis, Saudis, Russians or Chinese are owners of the Neptune satellite system.

Grisham’s first novel, set outside of a court of law, is a quick read considering what the author has to say in his note: “My background is law, certainly not satellites or espionage.”

We will buy that.

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