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Review: "Camino Island" by John Grisham

On a break from reading memoirs, I came across John Grisham’s best-selling Camino Island. Given that Grisham’s novel promised to deal with a daring heist of five original F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from Princeton University, a charismatic bookstore owner secretly dealing rare books in the black market, and a likeable but sorely uninspired writer-turned-spy, I figured I’d give it a go.

The beginning of Grisham’s novel is reminiscent of the heist of The Declaration of Independence in the film National Treasure, as Grisham explores exactly how his thieves sneak into Princeton’s Firestone Library to steal the Fitzgerald manuscripts. They obtain fake identities, slip past security, create a diversion on campus, and – spoiler alert – one of them commits a murder before the reader hits the 100-page mark. It’s quite the opening, and the delivery is stunning and altogether inspirational. I soon noticed, though, that such impeccable details were not limited to the opening scenes, and they quickly became one of the two things I admired most about Grisham’s writing.

Grisham somehow manages to deal with rare books, fictional authors’ backgrounds, potential book ideas, France, antique furniture, and turtles throughout his novel. I found these details intriguing because not all of them have clear connections with one another. Regardless, Grisham manages to write about each topic – along with many others – in a commanding and knowledgeable way. He also explores his ideas through a multitude of characters, all of whom have unique voices and back-stories. Grisham’s character development was the second aspect of his writing that I admired and, as a writer, even envied.

A few of Grisham’s more notable characters are Bruce Cable, the bookstore owner the reader can’t help admiring, Noelle, Cable’s “wife,” a flawless Frenchwoman who loves him but also has a married boyfriend in France, and Mercer Mann, the recently-fired college professor who finds the solution to her suffocating college loans in Bruce and Noelle’s world. As someone who enjoys reading and writing fiction, I appreciate how Grisham slowly revealed information about his characters, reeling the reader in so that, before she knows it, she becomes wholly invested in their stories.

However, I would be lying if I said that everything was peaches and cream about Grisham’s novel. If you’re looking for a good romance, the one that develops between Mann and Cable is rather dull. Sure, they exchange a few clever lines here and there, but it’s no Lizzie and Mr. Darcy. I also found that Grisham focuses much more on the complexity of the plot and less on the intensity of maintaining the action. So while there are moments of blissful page-turning, there are also moments of near-tedious enduring. That being said, if you’re looking for action and mystery with well-developed storylines in other areas too, this is your book.

With that in mind, Grisham’s novel is an accessible read that unfolds beautifully with the inevitable mess following the heist which occurs in the first section. Grisham creates fascinating characters who meet ends the reader may not expect, and each part of his novel brings new twists and turns bound to keep readers on their toes. And while his book may not be one for the action buffs, there are moments where his novel is one heck of a page-turner that leaves the reader wondering whether Grisham considered stealing the manuscripts himself.

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