John Grisham’s latest leaves behind lawyers to feature a group he also knows well – writers. When manuscripts belonging to F. Scott Fitzgerald are stolen from Princeton’s Firestone Library, the chase is on, involving not only the FBI but the insurance company on the hook for a large payout if those papers can’t be recovered. The trail leads to the fictional Camino Island, described as a ten-mile-long barrier strip just north of Jacksonville, Florida. Suspicion focuses on Bruce Cable, owner of the popular Bay Books and a collector of rare editions. Grisham delivers a terrific plot with an engaging and quirky cast of characters. Along the way, he also includes advice to would-be authors – ditch the thesaurus, pare down the language including the use of adjectives, work from a detailed outline, and don’t be discouraged when no one shows up for your book signing.
The writers who live on the island, as well as those who pass through to sign at Bay Books, owe much to Cable. He loves writers. He promotes their books and takes many of the young attractive women authors to bed, specifically in the tower room in his island mansion. Bruce and his wife, Noelle, whose store specializes in French furniture and antiques, have an open marriage. She spends long intervals in Paris, shopping and connecting with one of her longtime lovers, leaving Bruce free to entertain his latest conquest. When Mercer Mann shows up on the island, it’s not long before Cable has her in his sights.
Mercer used to spend summers on Camino Island, enjoying time with her aunt, Tessa, who spent her life protecting the island’s turtles. Mercer hasn’t been back to the island since her aunt died, although she’s always been free to use Tessa’s cottage. After she loses her adjunct teaching job at UNC, she’s approached by Elaine Shelby who works for the insurance company hoping to recover the Fitzgerald manuscripts. Shelby wants Mercer to visit Camino Island, stay in Tessa’s cottage and tell the locals she’s there to work on her second novel, which is now three years overdue. With that cover story, Mercer will be able to get close to Cable to discover where he’s hiding the Fitzgerald manuscripts.
Grishman’s story keeps the pages turning, but it’s the interaction between the writers that makes Camino Island such an enjoyable read, not only for writers, but for fans who will recognize the characteristics of many of their favorites. The group includes the literary genius whose alcoholism threatens his career, the lesbian duo who have made a fortune turning out trashy bodice-rippers, and the young mother who hit gold with her vampire series. Mercer’s achievements gain her entree to the group. Her first novel won accolades and was nominated for prestigious awards, but her second book, a short story collection bombed, affecting her creative process.
Although Cable may be a thief, he’s also the book store owner every author would love to have in their corner. Amazon may sell the bulk of books these days, but nothing can replace actual book signings where authors can meet and greet their fans. Camino Island may prompt many to search through their shelves to see if they are lucky enough to possess any first editions. There may be gold within those covers.