“Maybe you should be a lawyer.”
“I can’t think of anything worse.”
This tongue-in-cheek observation is just one of the fun things you’ll find in “Camino Island” by John Grisham. It’s a quick a snack of a book, a summer read that’s as entertaining as it is engaging.
The one and only John Grisham book I read was “A Time To Kill.” I liked his writing but legal novels don’t do much for me. “Camino Island” was billed as a departure from Grisham’s normal crime-thrillers, so I decided to give it a try and am happy that I did. It’s got quirky characters, some light tension and a lot of great banter.
Bruce Cable owns a prosperous independent bookstore on sleepy Camino Island. He hosts lots of book signings and dinner parties that are attended by his cache of loyal patrons, many who are also authors. Bruce got involved in the book business because of chance find at his father’s estate. Bruce is easy-going and extremely knowledgeable of the book and publishing world and has a knack for recognizing good writers.
Mercer Mann is a young novelist who used to spend summers on Camino Island with her grandmother. She had a modicum of success with her first novel but is struggling with her second one. She’s trying to pay off her mound of student loans as an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina when she is approached by mysterious woman who offers to pay off her student loans plus give her pocketbook a much needed boost.
There are two other minor, but prevalent, characters. Noelle Bonnet is Cable’s paramour and an antique dealer specializing in French furnishings. And Elaine Shelby is the aforementioned mystery woman and a very persuasive professional from an insurance company.
What brings these people together, and what opens the book, is the spectacular heist of five original F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from the Firestone Library at Princeton University. This includes the original handwritten manuscript for “The Great Gatsby” (Oh boy, to lay eyes on that!). The story that unfolds from this is a throw-back to the days of hardboiled detective pulp fiction stories, with chapter titles like “The Heist,” “The Dealer,” “The Recruit,” “The Fiction,” and so on. As you can imagine, Princeton is desperate to get these manuscripts back before they are sold off in the black market and lost forever.
What makes this romp so enjoyable is Grisham’s light and easy writing style. Some devout fans may call it too light, but not me. The author-to-author conversations during the dinner parties feel authentic and the laid-back lifestyle surrounding a Florida island felt like home. Indeed, it’s been reported that Grisham and his wife concocted the story on a long drive to Florida and that Camino Island is based on Amelia Island. Another fun fact – and mentioned in the author’s end notes – is the Fitzgerald manuscripts truly do reside at the Firestone Library in Princeton. I got on the library’s website to double check this fact (it’s true) and discovered that the library is in the midst of a renovation. What an interesting coincidence (insert winking smiley face here).
The plot misdirects are pretty obvious and the way Grisham handles the thieves’ story line is a bit anticlimactic, (it’s like he got to the end and couldn’t figure out what to do with them) but none of this dampened my overall enjoyment of the book. “Camino Island” made me want to frequent independent bookstores, meet eccentric authors and take long nighttime walks on the beach. Have fun with this book – it’s certainly written to have fun with us!
Thank you for your time.
Lynn Alexander is a recently published author and long-time book, food, cat and college football lover (Go Green!). Her career journey started in upstate New York, writing and recording commercials for radio. She moved to Venice, Florida to manage a restaurant which led her to Naples and Marco in 2002, where she currently books weddings and events for a local resort. Alexander is a Leadership Marco 2015 alum which fed her passion for history and learning. A butterfly at parties but a loner at heart, she loves nothing more than baking yummy desserts then retreating to a quiet corner to read.