In Camino Island, John Grisham took a break from his legal thrillers to write about another group he knows well – writers. The fictitious barrier strip, described as being just south of Jacksonville, Florida, is a magnet for tourists who come to enjoy the sun, sand, and food. Authors flock to the island, too, hoping to have signings at the prestigious Bay Books, run by the charismatic Bruce Cabot. In the first book, we met Mercer Mann, who had lost her adjunct teaching job and was recruited by an insurance company to track down F. Scott Fitzgerald’s manuscripts that had been stolen from Princeton University. Because of Cabot’s high profile as a rare book collector, Mercer was told to focus on him as the prime suspect. She does, but not with the intended outcome. (Read our review.)
In Camino Winds, Mercer is back on the island, this time as a bestselling author. Her book, Tessa, named after her aunt, a longtime island resident, is climbing the lists and she’s at the end of an exhausting two month-long book tour. Cabot is delighted to host a dinner for her at his home, inviting an Agatha Christie-worthy group of fascinating characters and possible victims. They include: Myra Beckwith and Leigh Trann, co-authors of soft porn romance novels; Bob Cobb, an ex-con who writes crime novels; Amy Slater, the most successful of the group with a popular series about young vampires; and Nelson Kerr, a former attorney who books are fictional exposes, often of corporate malfeasance; and, Nick Sutton, a college senior an avid reader of mysteries working at Bay Books for the summer. Not present is Cabot’s partner, Noelle, who runs an antique shop on the island. She’s in France, shopping for new inventory while spending time with her longtime boyfriend, tk. Bruce and Noelle have an open relationship, allowing Bruce to bed any of the young writers who stop at Bay Books for signings.
Plans for Mercer’s signing at the store, however, are upended when weather reports turn dire. Hurricane Leo, elevated to a category 5 storm, leads to an evacuation. Mercer, accompanied by her new boyfriend, Thomas, is one of the first to leave, joining the long caravan of those fleeing before Leo hits. Bruce, along with Sutton and Cobb, decide to stay, promising the others they will provide updates on the storm’s damage.
Leo hits with fury, smashing everything in its path and reducing many homes to rubble. Bruce and his companions are able to ride out the worst of the storm and set out the next day to assess the damage. Stopping in at Nelson’s home, located in a gated community, they find the author lying dead on his patio. At first glance, it appears he may have been hit bu flying debris. But when they turn over the body, the physical evidence points to murder.
Nick, of course, is thrilled, notwithstanding his horror at finding Nelson dead in such tragic circumstances. Reading all of those mysteries has turned him into a pseudo expert and hie’s soon spinning theories, many of them gaining traction. Nelson had just finished his new novel. It is possible what’s in that book has led to his death? Cob had seen a very attractive blond leaving Nelson’s home right as the storm hit. Could she have had something to do with killing him?
Grisham then does what he does best – spins a good mystery. And – no spoilers here – the plot bears an uncanny resemblance to something we are dealing with right now, in the midst of a pandemic.
Camino Winds is a great beach read. Just keep on that face mask and observe social distancing!
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