John Grisham is widely regarded as a master of suspense. His facility with plots that steadily build anticipation toward a shattering and often surprising climax is legendary. But in his latest, he departs from the pattern. Camino Winds is a curious example of a novel that’s really two books in one. The first is all about a hurricane, the second, a corporate scam. Both are compelling. Each could stand alone. The upshot is a reading experience that will be unfamiliar to many of Grisham’s fans.
Camino Winds by John Grisham (2020) 290 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
In the first of the two “books” that comprise Camino Winds, Grisham tells the tale of a Category 4 hurricane that strikes head on against an island off the Florida coast. The storm wreaks catastrophic damage, and Grisham’s description of its power is impressive. It’s enough to give you the impression that he has actually sat through a hurricane. There’s a murder mystery slowly unfolding in the background, but it’s only in the second half of the novel that it becomes top of mind as it becomes clear that the murder is at the heart of a massive corporate scam.
A colorful cast of literary characters
The mystery at the heart of Camino Winds is vintage Grisham. A former lawyer has moved to the island to write novels after blowing the whistle on a massive fraud perpetrated by one of his clients. He is murdered in the midst of the hurricane. The local police, and later the Florida state police, reluctantly agree that a murder was committed but seem loath to investigate seriously. The job is left to the lawyer’s friends on the island—a cast of literary characters familiar to readers of the book’s prequel, Camino Island.
Can a scam artist uncover a corporate scam?
The ringleader of the island’s literary mafia is Bruce Cable, who owns and runs a successful independent bookstore. As we learned in Camino Island, he also is a collector of rare books who operates close to the legal limits of his field—and sometimes darts over them. Cable presides over a gaggle of full-time writers, most of them successful, including the murdered ex-lawyer.
If Agatha Christie had written this novel, we’d suspect every one of these characters, one after the other. But it’s Grisham’s book, and the backstory for the murder is compelling. It’s no whodunit. Apparently, the lawyer was writing a new novel sure to be a bestseller that would blow the lid off an enormous Medicare scam involving low-end nursing homes.
In the end, Camino Winds fits nicely into the Grisham ouevre: it’s an exposé of how crooks operate on the fringes of an industry that victimizes some of the most vulnerable people in our society. And as a bonus you’ll learn a little about the publishing industry.
For additional reading
Like practically everyone else in America who binges on popular fiction, I’ve read a great number of John Grisham’s. I’ve reviewed ten of them on this blog. Three that I particularly enjoyed, including the prequel to Camino Winds, were:
- Camino Island (A daring heist, a frustrated novelist, and the ghost of F. Scott Fitzgerald)
- The Reckoning (John Grisham digs deeply into history with this excellent WWII novel)
- The Litigators (Get this: John Grisham’s latest novel is funny)
You might also enjoy my posts:
- Top 10 mystery and thriller series;
- 20 excellent standalone mysteries and thrillers;
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- Two dozen outstanding detective series from around the world.
For an abundance of great mystery stories, go to Top 20 suspenseful detective novels (plus 200 more). And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).
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