Camino Island by John Grisham

Camino Island by John Grisham

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  28,567 Ratings  ·  3,052 Reviews
Camino Island by John Grisham download or read it online for free
Camino Island by John Grisham
A gang of thieves stage a daring heist from a secure vault deep below Princeton University’s Firestone Library. Their loot is priceless, but Princeton has insured it for twenty-five million dollars.

Bruce Cable owns a popular bookstore in the sleepy resort town of Santa Rosa on Camino Island in Florida. He makes his real money, though, as a prominent dealer in rare books. Very few people know that he occasionally dabbles in the black market of stolen books and manuscripts.

Mercer Mann is a young novelist with a severe case of writer’s block who has recently been laid off from her teaching position. She is approached by an elegant, mysterious woman working for an even more mysterious company. A generous offer of money convinces Mercer to go undercover and infiltrate Bruce Cable’s circle of literary friends, ideally getting close enough to him to learn his secrets.

But eventually Mercer learns far too much, and there’s trouble in paradise as only John Grisham can deliver it.


"Your secrets are safe. I can't think of a soul I would want to tell."

And these secrets are within a crime. A jumbo, over-the-top, kick in the door of modern literature, and pull down the shades type of heist. Dollar signs that even have dollar signs.

When a group of well-rehearsed thieves make their way into the tombs of Princeton's lower vaulted depths, they come away with a golden grail in the form of original hand-written manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Miraculously, they stage enough diversions that they escape the university grounds and burrow into their hideouts. But the coast is not always clear just because time passes. A flubadub occurs and two of the members are caught. Each of them utter not a word. Clear sailing for the others? Maybe yes and maybe no.

Advice to oneself ala Grisham: Write what you know.

So Grisham parachutes this story into the waiting arms of a bookstore owner in a small town on Camino Island in Florida. Bruce Cable (interesting name in regard to ol' Bruce's widely growing circuit in the book world) doesn't always ring his daily sales on his cash register. Bruce dabbles, on occasion, in the darker side of intellectual exchange. A first print version in impeccable condition sends his heart racing.....almost as much as a shapely woman swinging her hips and opening the bookstore door at the same time.

Enter Mercer Mann who grew up on Camino Island and is a fledgling writer with a brief kiss of fame. She's now broke, unemployed, and somewhat bewildered when she's approached by a mysterious woman. A deal is struck in which Mercer will go undercover and try to get the goods on the elusive Bruce Cable. Mercer doesn't realize that someone else may be trying to get a foothold into Cable's backdoor operations as well.

John Grisham presents quite a different read this time. We are immersed in the world of books and the intricate mechanisms of publishing. Dinner conversations abound with the chatter of authors bantering on about their books. It almost has the flavor of Hemingway and his feasts in Paris in the 1920's with his jaunty friends. And the drinks flow just as hard and fast.

I enjoyed this one despite the fact that there is not a courtroom in sight as in Grisham's golden days. The heist itself seems to provide background noise. There wasn't the usual high tension as in times past. In addition, you may feel somewhat of a nudge that his character choices and dialogue have a bit of a different flavor for him this go-round. And different can be good.

Now the ending......a swift kick in the pants and a wry smile.

What a fun summer read!

I haven't read a John Grisham book since the 90s, but I picked up Camino Island after seeing a positive review. I was intrigued because the story is a departure from Grisham's usual legal thrillers. The plot is that priceless manuscripts by F. Scott Fitzgerald were stolen from a Princeton library, and the hunt is on to catch the thieves and save the papers.

The novel starts off with a thrill as we watch the gang of thieves go about the heist. (As a librarian and also as someone who wants literary archives to be protected, I liked that Grisham completely made up the details of the theft and didn't base it on the real library layout, because he didn't want anyone trying to imitate the crime in real life.) After the Fitzgerald manuscripts are stolen, we watch the police and FBI work the case, but when the trail goes cold, investigators decide to send in someone undercover.

Enter Mercer, an aspiring novelist who is tasked with infiltrating the social world of Bruce Cable, a bookseller in Camino Island, Florida, who is suspected of purchasing the stolen manuscripts. Mercer meets Bruce and some other writers in the area, and I really enjoyed the literary discussions they had. I won't spoil the ending of the mystery, but I was satisfied with how the plot was resolved.

I enjoy reading books about books, so it was fitting that I liked this literary mystery so much. The dialogue is a bit on the nose at times, but I enjoyed this novel so much that it seems silly to quibble. Recommend for those who like bookish thrillers.

Favorite Quotes
"Some writers are seasoned raconteurs with an endless supply of stories and quips and one-liners. Others are reclusive and introverted souls who labor in their solitary worlds and struggle to mix and mingle. Mercer was somewhere in between."

"Writers are generally split into two camps: those who carefully outline their stories and know the ending before they begin, and those who refuse to do so upon the theory that once a character is created he or she will do something interesting."

"Why do writers suffer so much? / ... It's because the writing life is so undisciplined. There's no boss, no supervisor, no time clock to punch or hours to keep. Write in the morning, write at night. Drink when you want to."

"Cable's Rules For Writing Fiction, a brilliant how-to guide put together by an expert who's read over four thousand books ... I hate prologues. I just finished a novel by a guy who's touring and will stop by next week. He always starts every book with the typical prologue, something dramatic like a killer stalking a woman or a dead body, then will leave the reader hanging, go to chapter 1, which, of course, has nothing to do with the prologue, then go to chapter 2, which, of course, has nothing to do with either chapter 1 or the prologue, then after about thirty pages slam the reader back to the action in the prologue, which by then has been forgotten ... Another rookie mistake is to introduce twenty characters in the first chapter. Five's enough and won't confuse your reader. Next, if you feel the need to go to the thesaurus, look for a word with three syllables or fewer. I have a nice vocabulary and nothing ticks me off more than a writer showing off with big words I've never seen before. Next, please use quotation marks with dialogue; otherwise it's bewildering. Rule Number Five: Most writers say too much, so always look for things to cut, like throwaway sentences and unnecessary scenes."

"There should be a rule in publishing that debut novels are limited to three hundred pages, don't you think?"

Every time I read a book by John Grisham, I am consistently reminded of what a great storyteller he is. His style is compact, direct and to the point, and pulls you in immediately. I wasn’t 10 pages into his new book “Camino Island” and I knew that I would be spending most of the day focused on reading it. The good news is that it was worth it.

Rather than focusing on lawyers, it takes aim at the world of bookstores, publishing, and writers. It begins with a skillful heist of five John F. Fitzgerald manuscripts from a secure vault below Princeton’s Firestone Library. The manuscripts end up in a secondary black market and a young female writer, Mercer Mann, is hired to go undercover an investigate a popular independent bookstore owner and prominent dealer in rare books that is thought to have or know who is in possession of the manuscripts.

Using a background that is second nature to Grisham works well and provides interesting tidbits and name dropping throughout the book. As usual, Mercer is in over her head and the reader is right there with her. The plot develops fast and flows well. His prose is easy to read and take in as the pages meld together in a character driven adventure that captures your attention. Even though this book is one of his shorter ones (just under 300 pages), it is well worth the time.

Overall, Grisham knows how to tell a story that readers enjoy. I especially appreciated his respectful name dropping of Stephen King, support for independent bookstores, a nice small shot at Amazon. The question to ask myself is whether I ever really read a bad Grisham book? Although some are better than others, the answer is no. All of them have been good, better, or best. If you’re honest, you are probably nodding your head right now. “Camino Island” is one of the better ones. Just try it.

I enjoyed this more than some other recent John Grisham novels I have read. Many parts of it were 3 stars and many parts were 4 stars. I will compromise at 3.5 stars (but round up to 4 on the official scale – since I have been so harsh on Grisham lately!)

The main appeal of this book is that books are central to the theme. Hardcore readers – which most of you probably are – will appreciate the discussion of bookstore business/politics, book values, first edition collecting, and book heists. All of that was what kept me in this right up to the very end.

The story was just okay – some of the plot points convenient and convoluted. It is fiction, so of course the author is making it up, but I want there to be at least some sense that the events are plausible. In this case, it seemed like any time Grisham wanted something to fit he would be like, “Well, it just so happens that over here is the exact thing we were discussing!” It’s a bit silly, but only mildly distracting.

One thing I liked a lot compared to Grisham’s recent efforts is that it felt fresh and unique. Normally, it feels like he is using the same formula and it is getting stale. But, in this case the mystery was different than anything I have seen in one of his books before.

Finally, I go back to one of the things that amuses me about Grisham the most. I feel like he plans his plot and scenes around food. I dare you to try and find a Grisham where he doesn’t mention what people are eating every few pages, characters are not planning a get together based around food, or the main character doesn’t stop of somewhere for beer and burgers to contemplate what just happened. It makes me laugh every time.

If I could change the title, I think I'd rename it Anatomy of a Heist. The writing is very matter-of-fact - nothing very thrilling or exciting - that begins with the theft of five one-of-a-kind F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from the bowels of the Princeton University Firestone Library. From there, it follows the day-to-day (often minute-by-minute) lives of the thieves and those who want to find them and bring the manuscripts back to their rightful home. It's divided into sections, each of which details the relevant characters and events pretty much on a minute-by-minute basis.

"The Heist," the opening section, brings readers an up-close-and-personal look at the robbers and how they planned the job and carried off the loot. "The Dealer" focuses on Bruce Cable, owner of a popular bookstore on Florida's Camino Island who collects rare books and, despite having a gorgeous French wife who deals in antiques, is quite the ladies' man. That's followed by "The Recruit," which introduces Mercer Mann, a semi-successful novelist and current teacher at the University of North Carolina. She's desperately trying to get out of a writing slump, hoping to get published and sell enough books to pay off her massive student loans and live the life of a successful writer.

In earlier days, Mercer was a frequent visitor to Camino Island and thus is familiar with its small tourist town of Santa Rosa, where Bruce's bookstore is located. When powers-that-be suspect that Bruce somehow may be involved in the theft of the manuscripts, which are insured for a whopping $25 million, she's considered the perfect "spy" and is offered the job of getting close enough to Bruce to learn his secrets. What they're willing to pay for her services is mind-boggling; but she wonders if its worth selling her soul as a snitch. Even if she can get over that hump, does she have what it takes to convince Bruce that she's just a curious, temporary island resident who has an interest in old books? And what if it turns out that Bruce has no secrets at all?

From there, the story unfolds bit by bit, section by section - always in a mostly narrative, little dialogue fashion. For readers, that means no nail-biting or edge-of-seat balancing, which may not sit all that well with those who demand knock-'em-dead action (nor will, perhaps, the lack of courtroom drama). But as with any writer worth his or her salt, the devil is in the details - and in that respect, Grisham is as good as it gets. It was fascinating to see how deftly he weaves together all the bits and pieces into the whole story that builds to the ending - which, as might be expected, is understated as well. Good job!

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