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John Grisham and the Camino literary caper

  • 05 July 2024
  For a long time now, John Grisham has been part of the air we breathe. He has been a big time, vastly successful crime writer almost for as long as our memories stretch. It’s — what? — 40 years since we saw the film of The Client with Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon and that extraordinary child actor Brad Renfro (who was to die tragically in 2006 but not without making a masterpiece Bully with Larry Clark). And who would’ve thought that Robert Altman of all Grand Auteurs — the maker of Nashville and Gosford Park and McCabe and Mrs. Miller — should also have filmed a Grisham novel from a discarded manuscript — The Gingerbread Man with Ken Branagh.

It’s as if Grisham is one of those writers who’s all things to all people. He contains multitudes and commands them. The first — unbelieving — attitude to his work is to think that you’re in the vicinity of a literary syndicate that presents very cogently and coherently and with a minimal amount of colour, a coherent plot that has been assimilated and aggregated by a top legal firm and sent to the reader as a set of lucid formulae, almost like a case of AI before the letter. That seems to be the case with Camino Island, which is the first of three Grisham novels centered around a bookseller in a stretch of Florida called Camino Island.

The first of these books, Camino Island, begins with a heist, that especially unlovable convention that seems especially dull and ungainly on the page. A group of professional crooks steal from the Princeton Library the manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels. And this in turn (in ways the mind fails to connect with any clarity) leads to a bookseller who, in his day, got started pinching a collection of very valuable first editions. So our hero, Bruce Cable, is a kind of anti-hero, but a deeply charming one.

In Camino Island he becomes involved with a young novelist called Mercer and she in turn is persuaded by some supersleuthing government agency to trap Bruce. Infinite wiles and plot complications add to this — not least the sexual conjunction of Mercer and Bruce Cable (which is at once sympathetically and a bit cynically depicted). She is willing to betray him and the chief agent of justice a hawkeyed — is she bespectacled? — woman