Author is a retired attorney having practiced for 35 years in Illinois who now lives in Texas and started writing stories about a year and a half ago.
Book Review: Camino Island
John Grisham’s claim to fame as we all know are his numerous books about lawyers. This new book of his, Camino Island, however is not about lawyers. It’s a book about books. It centers on some hand written manuscripts of a famous deceased American author stolen from a prestigious university. An insurance company is on the hook for millions if they are not recovered and this book is the saga of their recovery.
And along the way Grisham tells us many interesting facts about the book publishing industry, book sellers, struggling novelists, rare book collectors, rare book dealers, and miscellaneous interesting tidbits like the value of a Cormac McCarthy or James Lee Burke autographed first edition or that seventy percent of new book buyers are women.
From that last fact alone I deduced that’s why his protagonist here is a woman. It took me a while to figure that out though since the first few chapters deal exclusively with the details of the heist and the male criminal characters thereof. I actually started to wonder which one of these bad guys is suppose to be our hero. Not until you’re into the book a ways, and here it was not quick enough for me, does our heroine come into play. I for one don’t like to be confused like that. I want to be introduced to my my hero or heroine right off the bat. So this is my first criticism of the book and strike one for Grisham.
Our heroine, a wannabe successful novelist and a just now unemployed college professor, is sought out by the insurance company to help them in their recovery efforts. Her mission, should she decide to accept it, is to go to Camino Island and find out what she can from a well known very successful bookseller there who may have the manuscripts. He’s a suspect because he has been know to deal in rare stolen books on occasion. She’s perfect for the job her prospective employer tells our reluctant heroine because she’s a published novelist with family connections to Camino Island and thus will nonchalantly fit right in with the book writing and book selling community there. Plus she can work on her contracted novel, three years over due, full time. She dithers but when she's told the ungodly sum she will be paid for her services, well of course we all knew that was coming, she accepts the job as an amateur but well paid sleuth.
The book dealer and alleged seller of stolen rare books and possible possessor of the stolen manuscripts is kind of an Elmore Leonard type of character in that he is a bad guy that can sometimes be likeable. The well known book dealer operates out of his well known bookstore and is also a well known, and proud of it, womanizer. He has an ‘open’ marriage with his ‘wife.’ Whether all this is relevant to the story or put in there for titillation purposes I’m not certain. And there’s way too much TMI on the ‘marriage.’ Anyway the sex pitch is one Grisham should not have taken a swing at. Strike two.
Our heroine eventually falls for his charms and sleeps with the enemy. No bodice ripping or steamy sex scene here, but it happens nonetheless, and I kept hoping that it wouldn’t. Our heroine should be a good girl and shouldn’t sexually fraternize with the bad guy. That’s strike three.
Oh but there’s more.
All the while the insurance company is keeping tabs on things at a much better, faster, pace and with more techno elaborate efficiency than any Mission Impossible team could do. So much so that what they spend in time, manpower, thoroughness and expenses seems unbelievable. Strike Four.
Well eventually all’s well that ends well. But this book has an Elmore Leonard type of ending. Elmore Leonard is one of my favorites that’s why I keep invoking him, and what works for him doesn’t necessarily work for Grisham. Strike five.
Normally when I read Grisham, and he’s one of my favorites too, I can’t put his book down and read it in a couple of days. Here however I found myself reading maybe ten pages a day, the next day fifty, the next day maybe none. Strike six. Two outs. Nevertheless I didn’t give up on him and start reading something else which is what I normally do with over half the books that I start reading.
And now for something in the book’s favor.
It is well written and a smooth read and I did learn a lot about the book publishing, book writing, and bookselling industry. To me this is a plus because I like to learn something new each day. I’m sure Mr. Grisham is well acquainted with all things in the book business and therefore is more than qualified to write about them. But in my humble pie opinion, he’s better off sticking to legal thrillers. And he must think so too. After all his new book coming out this fall is simply entitled: ‘New Legal Thriller.’
Even though this book was so so and he struck out twice, I’ll give him another turn at bat. After all the man does have a pretty good batting average.