But while Camino Island isn’t a typical Grisham legal thriller, it does have the feel of what Grisham does so well in the pages of his legal thrillers. In this case, it’s not a young lawyer with his or her ethics being challenged or figuring out how to fight the system for the underdog. This time Grisham turns his sights upon the publishing world and the lucrative world of book collecting.
Camino Island starts off at a sprint with four thieves stealing four rare F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from the Princeton library.
Once the manuscripts are stolen, Grisham then introduces us to one of the high stakes players in the world of book collecting and his lucrative business.
It’s only then that we meet our conflicted heroine, Mercer. Mercer is a struggling writer whose first novel gained rave reviews but not necessarily the sales to back it up. Facing writer’s block while trying to write her second novel, Mercer has just been dismissed from her academic teaching role and faces an uncertain future and a mountain of debt due to student loans. When the FBI approaches her about infiltrating the world of the book dealer and gathering information on if he has the manuscripts and where they might be stored in exchange for forgiving her student loans and a nice stipend, Mercer reluctantly agrees.
Returning to her favorite aunt’s home on the island, Mercer begins to insert herself into the lives of various literary characters on the island.
It’s once Mercer makes the decision to return to the island that Grisham pulls the throttle back a bit on the story and the real meat of the story begins. Mercer’s investigation and discoveries (both about herself and the world of book collecting) make for fascinating reading. Grisham isn’t the first author to examine the implications of being a writer in his work. Stephen King has famously looked at the impact of being a writer in works like Misery and
The Dark Half. But Grisham is less concerned with the creative implications of being a writer as much as the financial ones and pulling back the curtain on the publishing world and the current distribution model. Ever a champion of the “little guy,” it’s hard to not root for the book dealer with questionable ethics, simply because he’s following his passion for reading great books and making sure that authors have the opportunity to be read in the ever growing din of book conversation.
If that sounds a bit dry, let me assure you that Camino Island is anything but dry. It’s got Grisham’s signature character examination and peeling back the layers of a mystery. This may be the best legal thriller you’ll read this year that never sets a foot inside a law office. Grisham’s writing is assured, as always. Part of the charm that keeps bringing me back to Grisham’s novels is his assured, friendly voice that leaps out from every page. And Grisham still has the ability to surprise you with developments in the story – both in plot and character.
And all the discussion of Fitzgerald and his literary output sparked this reader to consider visiting Fitzgerald’s works again. And given that I was not enamored with The Great Gatsby when I read it in high school, that may be the biggest “win” for Grisham and Camino Island.