There’s not much mystery afoot in “Camino Island.” Sure, there’s a plot about crooks who steal the F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from Princeton University. But that’s just a setup for what John Grisham really wants to do: talk about writing.

Mercer Mann is a novelist who has run into a crippling case of writer’s block, leaving her years behind deadline. She’s approached by the insurance company that’s on the hook for $25 million for the Fitzgerald theft. They suspect that the manuscripts have ended up with a shady book dealer on a small Florida island that’s home to a community of writers. For a hefty fee, they want Mercer to go to Camino Island under the guise of trying to reboot her novel but really to see if she can pick up any clues.

It’s a weak premise at best; a crook who has spent 20 years marketing stolen goods isn’t going to blurt out, “By the way, I have the original manuscript for ‘The Great Gatsby’ hidden behind my file cabinet.” But that’s not Grisham’s aim. He wants to follow Mercer as she drifts from parties to happy hours, talking to writers about everything from the effectiveness of prologues (thumbs down) to their favorite authors (including a nod to Louise Erdrich).

Fans of Grisham’s potboilers likely will be surprised by this book’s slower pacing and introspective nature. But at the same time, those fans might be impressed to discover that an author who churns out books as if they were coming off an assembly line clearly has spent considerable time analyzing the craft of writing and the artists who practice it.


Jeff Strickler is a features editor at the Star Tribune.

Camino Island
By: John Grisham.
Publisher: Doubleday, 290 pages, $28.95.