Camino Island
PublisherHodder & Stoughton
Date Published06 June 2017
Price£ 20.00

Camino Island

by John Grisham

Writer Mercer Mann is recruited by an insurance company to get close to a book dealer who they suspect is holding stolen manuscripts worth a fortune.


In a carefully planned and audacious raid on the basement of the Princeton Firestone Library, thieves successfully extract the original manuscripts of five novels by F Scott Fitzgerald, worth $25 million. The gang leave clues and early arrests are made, but nobody is talking and the manuscripts disappear from sight.

Princeton’s insurance company has specialists for art theft, and a team headed by Elaine Shelby hear rumours of a sale. They have several people under surveillance, but their attention is drawn to Bruce Cable, who runs a bookshop on Camino Island in Florida. Before they can get the FBI involved they need to place someone close to Cable who can confirm what he is holding in his basement.

Mercer Mann looks like the obvious choice. She spent her childhood summers on the island with her grandmother Tessa, whose old cottage on the beach is still in family use. She has recently lost a teaching job and a beachside holiday to resurrect a writing career on hiatus looks like good cover. Mercer also needs the money Elaine is offering. But will she make a convincing spy?

After thrillers too numerous to count, Grisham continues to turn out a decent book. While there is normally an aspect of law involved somewhere, his tales range widely in scope and he always finds a new angle or area of interest to keep the reader entertained. I do like a writer who tells you stuff, especially if they can slide it into the story so you don’t feel you are being lectured to, something that Grisham is good at.

In an afterword the author admits to knowing nothing about selling books and little about the world of rare books, but has done sufficient research to make the sections dealing with such matters feel entirely plausible. What he does know about is writing books, and in a particularly amusing interlude here he gives Cable free rein with his top ten rules for writing fiction. The first two (no prologues, and don’t introduce 20 characters in the first chapter) I heartily endorse. Grisham here also takes the opportunity to talk about writers and writing through the characters that Mercer meets on Camino Island.

The first and last sections of the book, which cover the heist and the FBI operation to close in on Cable, have some exciting moments. The middle section is more low-key with the central focus on Mercer’s moral dilemma as she becomes more intimate with her quarry, but there is plenty of general interest. I was particularly engaged in trying to identify the writers she meets; if the portraits are drawn from life I suspect they are probably actionable, which would be excellent publicity no doubt.

Reviewed 05 August 2017 by Chris Roberts