It’s been many years since I last read a John Grisham novel because I had had enough of his legal thrillers with a kind of “formula” at that point. However, when I saw Camino Island I told myself I would read it because the synopsis sounded different from the rest. Am I glad I made that decision.
The focus here are stolen books, and I love books. The loot of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s five manuscripts (The Beautiful and Damned, The Love of the Last Tycoon, The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night, This Side of Paradise) is insured for $25 million, but priceless to Princeton University. These are buried in a high security vault deep in the basement of the university which a gang of five thieves managed to remove in a daring heist.
Bruce Cable, a 40-something-year-old successful bookstore owner on Camino Island, is also a dealer in rare books who occasionally dabbles in the black market of stolen books and manuscripts. He is married to Noelle Bonnet, a designer/decorator/writer from France. She has a pivotol role in the plot which I shall not divulge.
Mercer Mann is 31, an adjunct professor of freshman literature at the University of North Carolina with two weeks’ tenure left. She has previously published a book, and takes a sabbatical to write, ending up at Camino Island in Florida, where she used to spend her summers with her grandmother.
Elaine Shelby is one of the many people Mercer meets on the island. Elaine offers Mercer a generous amount of money to go undercover to infiltrate the business and social world of Bruce. ……
The story gives an interesting insight into the craft of writing. The characters are an interesting mix, the plot transitions smoothly from the rough and tumble of a heist to a more peaceful and emotional setting. The reader is absorbed into Mercer’s inner turmoil and self discovery. The emotions and sentimentality are well balanced with the criminal element.
Some of my favourite passages from the book:
- Some writers are seasoned raconteurs with an endless supply of stories and quips and one-liners.Others are reclusive and introverted souls who labour in their solitary worlds and struggle to mix and mingle.
- Writers are generally split into two camps: those who carefully outline their stories and know the ending before they begin, and those who refuse to do so upon the theory that once a character is created he or she will do something interesting.
- Why do writers suffer so much? … it’s because the writing life is so undisciplined. There’s no boss, no supervisor, no time clock to punch or hours to keep. Write in the morning, write at night. Drink when you want to.
- Cable’s Rules for Writing Fiction, a brilliant how-to guide put together by an expert who’s read over four thousand books … I hate (books that start with) prologues… something dramatic like a killer stalking a woman or a dead body, then will leave the reader hanging, go to chapter 1, which, of course, has nothing to do with the prologue, then go to chapter 2, which, of course, has nothing to do with either chapter 1 or the prologue, then after about thirty pages slam the reader back to the action in the prologue, which by then has been forgotten … Another rookie mistake is to introduce twenty characters in the first chapter. Five’s enough and won’t confuse your reader. Next, if you feel the need to go to the thesaurus, look for a word with three syllables or fewer. I have a nice vocabulary and nothing ticks me off more than a writer showing off with big words I’ve never seen before. Next, please use quotation marks with dialogue, otherwise it’s bewildering. Rule Number Five: Most writers say too much, so always look for things to cut, like throwaway sentences and unnecessary scenes
- There should be a rule in publishing that debut novels are limited to three hundred pages, don’t you think?
This is a novel about the world of bookstores, publishing and writers that is definitely worth reading. (Books mentioned include The Convict and Other Stories by James Lee Burke, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, The Collected Poems by Emily Dickenson, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Soldier’s Pay and The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemmingway, The World According to Garp and The Cider House Rules by John Irving, The Lonely Silver Rain and Darker Than Amber by John D. MacDonald, The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West by Comac McCarthy, The Last Picture Show and Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, Goodbye, Columbus and five Short Stories by Philip Roth, Cup of Gold by John Steinbeck, The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf.)