“Camino Island” by John Grisham

camino island“Camino Island” starts as a fast moving, (very) stripped down, matter of fact, look how ingenious we are, heist. The plot moves along rapidly, if somewhat mechanically, executing what should have been the perfect robbery. The thieves are straight from central casting. The items being stolen, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s manuscripts, are the only original things in the opening chapters.

If this had been a movie, the robbery would have taken place as a background to the credits rolling by and no one would have missed anything.

Then the flow of the book suddenly slows and we’re gently meandering through the life of our heroine, a woman with one successful novel behind her, weighed down by her student loan debt, about to lose her teaching job, involuntarily single and three years behind on writing her next novel.

It turns out she is the last best hope for retrieving the missing manuscripts. She accepts payment to go back the island she grew up on and spend the summer infiltrating the life of a bookseller suspected of holding the manuscripts.

Much of the book is spent describing the booksseller’s life, the lives of the other writers on the island (they are legion), the changing nature of the publishing world, the delights of good food, fine wine and antique Provençal furniture and the freedoms of an open marriage.

The dialogue is well done and the characters are clearly drawn but I felt that I had walked into a different novel (possibly written by a different author) than the one I’d started. I was less engaged that I could have been as I found the bookseller unattractive and our heroine passive and voyeuristic.

I kept reading partly because I wanted to see how this dive into Floridian book culture would connect back to the heist and partly because the writing made up for the plot.

In the end, the clever twist emerges and is well executed but it had all the emotional impact of a magician pulling a rabbit from a top hat.

The epilogue that brings the main characters together for a final resolution simply confirmed that I didn’t like or care about either of them.

This is not a bad book but it left me feeling a little cheated because the heist never got past the cardboard cut-out stage and most of the book was as thrilling as watching strangers drink too much and talk too much at a cocktail party

 

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