Camino Island by John Grisham has a more mellow tone than his usual thrillers. There is a theft. There is a murder. There are investigations by the FBI, the local police and the insurance company, which is on the hook for paying compensation for Princeton’s loss.
But there’s not the tension, the drama, or the breakneck pace characteristic of some of his other novels.
Priceless original manuscripts written by William Faulkner are stolen from Princeton University. Both the college and its insurer are desperate to retrieve them. The plot reminded me of The Thomas Crown Affair, one of my favorites, which was made into a movie in 1968 with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, and then again in 1999 with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. In Grisham’s book, Mercer Mann, a young novelist with writer’s block, investigates Bruce Cable, a wealthy book store owner who deals in rare books.
Cable’s literary friends are a hard-drinking, womanizing group struggling to write or publish commercially successful books. Numerous discussions of various genres and writing styles add to the slower pace of the book. When Cable shares his “top ten rules for writing fiction,” we wonder if these are Grisham’s rules, also. Cable doesn’t like prologues, too many characters in the first chapter, multiple-syllabic words pulled from a thesaurus, dialogue without quotation marks, and excessive wordiness. Cable says to cut out throwaway sentences and unnecessary scenes.
More character driven than plot driven, Camino Island may surprise Grisham fans who were expecting a hard-charging thriller. It’s an interesting read but definitely a deviation from his usual style.