daring heist

A gang of five thieves pulls off a spectacular heist, making away with five priceless manuscripts handwritten by F. Scott Fitzgerald from the Firestone Library at Princeton University. They leave behind only one shred of evidence: a drop of blood. This alone enables the FBI to identify one of the thieves, and in short order they succeed in arresting him and one of his accomplices. But the other three have gone free, the leader of the gang among them.

As months go by with no further evidence coming to light and no sign surfacing of the manuscripts, the FBI’s case goes cold. But a private agency specializing in the recovery of stolen artwork has been hired by the manuscripts’ insurer. Facing fewer inhibitions than the FBI, they’ve managed to turn up a lead to a prominent independent bookseller located on Camino Island off the coast of Florida. And they have a perfect way in to investigate the man: an attractive young female novelist with close ties to the island, a burdensome student debt, a teaching job that’s about to end—and writer’s block.

Camino Island by John Grisham @@@@ (4 out of 5)

This is the setup in John Grisham‘s latest novel, Camino Island. The book is vintage Grisham: diabolically clever plotting, a constellation of conflicting personalities, a shifting point of view, and an unadorned, no-nonsense writing style.

At 31, Mercer Mann is winding up a teaching gig at the University of North Carolina. She has one critically acclaimed novel and a book of short stories under her belt but is three years late to deliver the manuscript for a second novel. When Elaine Shelby shows up in her life with the offer of a great deal of money to undertake a simple assignment, she turns down the money. Then she is contacted again by the collection agency that’s pursuing her about the $61,000 in student loans she still owes, and when Elaine offers to retire the loans in addition to paying her $100,000 in cash, Mercer relents. Her assignment: move back to Camino Island, where she had spent idyllic summers as a teenager with her grandmother, hole up in the cottage in which she still has a financial interest, and simply befriend the local bookseller. Bruce Cable, the bookseller, is well known to socialize with authors and has a pronounced taste for attractive young women. It seems Elaine has chosen her agent well.

Meanwhile, Denny, the leader of the thieves, is following the trail of the manuscripts, which he had sold cheaply in a panic after his two accomplices were arrested. Clearly, he, too, will be making his way to Camino Island. The suspense builds steadily. Predictably, all these players—Bruce, Elaine, Mercer, the FBI, and Denny—eventually collide in a surprising and typically ironic Grisham-like conclusion.

For further reading

Previously, I reviewed seven of John Grisham’s novels: Another fiendishly clever John Grisham novelThe belated sequel to John Grisham’s breakthrough first novel, John Grisham vs. Big Coal, The police come off badly in John Grisham’s latest novelWhy do so many people buy John Grisham’s books?,  Get this: John Grisham’s latest novel is funny, and John Grisham takes on judicial corruption.

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