Camino Island by John Grisham

read by January LaVoy

Grisham can usually be relied upon to deliver the goods: instantly fascinating setting; troubled yet sympathetic protagonist; nasty (generally corporate) villain; unforeseen plot twist; satisfying dénouement. He is a consummate storyteller, even if the prose can be undistinguished. He certainly keeps the listener wanting to learn more (so many audiobooks fall flat within minutes).

Unfortunately, with Camino Island, the ‘Author’s Note’ reveals Grisham’s flaw: ‘I learned with my first novel that writing books is far easier than selling them … I know nothing about the retail side of the business’. He should really stick to what he demonstrably knows a great deal about: the law. In Camino Island, plot and characters really don’t convince. For this listener, his familiarity with academics, university libraries, rare books and even fellow novelists doesn’t ring quite  true.

Grisham’s characters often have a ton of good fortune. Rare book dealer Bruce Cable is no exception. He starts out with money and then discovers that his late father had an enviable library of, mainly American, mainly twentieth-century, first editions:  items easy to overlook as just a collection of second-hand books and a great tax dodge/money laundering vehicle. He buys a bookshop in a tourist paradise and makes a huge success of things: selling books, seducing authors on book signing tours, adding to his collection of rare modern editions, getting for a song one of the best old houses on the island and partnering a beautiful furniture dealer, an expert in French antiques. Everything is so perfect you want to scream. But that, of course, is Grisham’s art. And his charm.

The theft of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s manuscripts from Princeton University. And Bruce Cable’s inveigling into his deceptions of former English  professor cum novelist Mercer Mann, who has been planted on Camino Island by private investigator Donna Watson aka Elaine Shelby, the agent tracking down the priceless masterpieces … is sheer hokum. One comes away from Camino Island reeling off the manifold gaping holes in the plot. But Grisham manages, every pothole notwithstanding, to entertain until the very last word in the book.

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