Camino Island – Review

John Grisham. Camino Island. New York: Doubleday, 2017. Print.

It has been a while since we read anything by John Grisham. This latest work is not exactly the legal thriller he is known for. Perhaps we could call Camino Island an insurance procedural. And like some of his other novels about the law, the stakes are high.

Camino Island begins with a very clever heist of the handwritten manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s five novels from a heavily protected safe at Princeton University.

From there it does get to Camino Island, off the Jacksonville, Florida, coast where Bruce Cable owns a flourishing bookstore. It is in an upscale tourist area like the coastal islands of Georgia and South Carolina. Cable has learned the trade well and frequently gets authors passing through to do book signings. He also has a great personal collection of first editions and a rare book business on the side.

The unnamed insurer of the Fitzgerald manuscripts approaches a starving young author, Mercer Mann, to go to Camino Island where her aunt owns a summer home. They offer her a generous amount of money to find out what she can about Cable’s business and see if she can learn anything about the missing manuscripts. A somewhat reliable informant thought Cable might have them.

Camino Island not only introduces the reader to the bookstore business, it gives insight into the rare book and manuscript world along with high-stakes insurance investigations. As with stolen works of art, insurers and victims are usually more interested in recovering the stolen items than seeing all the perpetrators come to justice. Indeed, many such thefts are more like kidnappings where the stolen items are held for ransom.

Camino Island names numerous other modern books, most of literary significance. We are introduced to a curious cast of writers who live nearby. Included are some comments about Fitzgerald and his friends.

One such observation says that The Beautiful and Damned may be Fitzgerald’s weakest effort. We are not so sure about that. It is the closest to The Great Gatsby in content and portrays a family very similar to the Tom Buchanans. Gatsby tells us that the very rich go on being rich and letting others clean up their messes. The Beautiful and Damned shows us how they do it. I confess that I have not yet read the unfinished The Last Tycoon, but I would consider Tender is the Night his weakest. It does feature a mother who exploits her daughter for gain like Erysichthon, but it is somewhat disjointed and seems to be going in a few different directions.

Still, Camino Island is a bit different for a detective novel or legal procedural. If not exactly a thriller, the reader is fascinated and curious to see what happens. We both were a little disappointed in Miss Mercer’s weak character, but the book is set in our era. Maybe a little of the Daisy Buchanan has rubbed off on her. Welcome to the twenty-first century, where the rich still get away with the crimes they commit.

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