Camino Winds takes us back to Camino Island just in time to greet a direct hit by a Category 4-5 hurricane named Leo. John Grisham takes us to revisit Bruce Cable at his very popular bookstore when Mercer Mann is scheduled to do a reading and book signing for her new novel, named Tessa after her grandmother. Bruce Cable is an enthusiastic fan of Mercer and he is an enthusiastic fan of all novelists, although he likes literary fiction best. The island has attracted a small, oddball group of writers who enjoy each other’s company and are happy to be strong-armed into attending the book signings Cable sponsors. His bookstore is a popular stop on publishers’ marketing circuits.
Mercer is with her new beau Thomas, also a writer, but they have to evacuate the island before the book signing can ever take place. Mercer’s grandmother’s cottage may not be able to survive a direct hit by such a strong storm. Bruce moves all his first floor books to the upper floors in the bookstore and decides to stay put in his Victorian home, beautifully decorated by his wife Noelle, an antiques dealer. Noelle is off on a buying trip. Nick, a young student working part time in the bookstore hangs with Bruce through the storm and the aftermath. Bruce has a generator.
The storm is a doozey and there is plenty of damage but it is to the north of where Cable lives, closer to the big hotels. And indeed, the electricity does get taken out by the storm. But one of Cable’s writer friends fares far worse in the storm. When they go to check on him they find him folded over a stone wall in his back yard, dead. At first they think he was hit by flying debris, but young Nick, lover of mystery books, offers good reasons to believe this is actually a murder.
Nelson is an author who has just finished a new book, although he has not yet sent it to a publisher. At first no one except the reader of Camino Winds thinks there is a connection between the manuscript and Nelson’s untimely demise. But we, John Grisham‘s readers knew it. We were right, sure enough there is a connection and it makes for another edge-of-your-seat story, even with a little edge of menace. Watch out or you will be pulling another all-nighter.
I decided to go for a bit of lighter summer reading and I know John Grisham well and so I knew if I chose his book Camino Island that I was likely to find what I was looking for. The book begins in a library at Princeton University, always a good sign for me when a book begins in a library. In this case four thieves decide to take on a nearly impossible heist of five original Fitzgerald manuscripts from a very well-protected vault. Pulling off the theft required plenty of advanced planning and ingenuity and the end result was both successful and not successful. The books ended up in the shady end of the rare books trade.
In a parallel story, which we know will eventually connect back to this theft, we meet a young author Mercer Mann (great author name) who has just lost her job teaching at a university due to the economy. She had published one book which was well-accepted by critics but did not really sell because of inadequate marketing. She had spent many summers on Camino Island with her grandmother Tessa, protecting endangered sea turtles, enjoying her grandmother’s company, and learning to love the ocean and the beach. When her grandmother, who had gone sailing, was found drowned after a storm, Mercer stayed away from the beach house she loved because she could not face knowing her grandmother would no longer be there. But it has been several years and Mercer is without a job and finding it difficult to write her second novel.
Enter Elaine, chic insurance investigator looking for those missing Fitzgerald manuscripts and running out of time. When she offers Mercer much more than a year’s salary to spy on the local bookseller, Bruce Cable, and then ups the ante by offering to pay off Mercer’s burdensome student loans, Mercer takes on this task despite her gut feeling that this is a very bad idea and that she is unsuited to the task.
John Grisham is skilled at grabbing us with his prose and his timing and keeping us engrossed in a story until we risk losing sleep over the matter. He has not lost his touch. He also knows how to make imperfect people likeable enough that we make allowances. This book doesn’t attempt to meet any goals that inspire global equality or cooperation; it exist strictly to entertain, and it does that very well. The book has suspense and questionable choices, but it also offers warmth and charm.
John Grisham writes about the corruption that often seems rampant in our culture, and that seems to arise from the dark side of humans, tempting people to break laws and then to defend their behavior physically by intimidation and even murder, if necessary. In this book The Whistler we begin with an unidentified whistle blower. Whistle blowers have been learning to remain anonymous because the information they share is not information someone (or some group) wants shared. In this case the people who would like to silence the whistle blower are criminals so we see the need for secrecy, but how the two parties (info providers and info recipients) react is often less clear cut.
There is a go-between in this case, a guy who has no known address (lives on a boat) and has a fake name and basically lives off the grid. He relays the information from the whistle blower to Lacy and Hugo who work for Board of Judicial Conduct for the State of Florida in St. Augustine. Lacy and Hugo are tasked with investigating complaints about judges. They are not detectives or law enforcers and are not used to dealing with dangerous criminals or even equipped to do so. But this time the judge in question is entwined in a web of some complexity. There is a criminal gang involved, a Native America tribe, a ton of expensive and profitable development, and a casino on Indian land that is a gold mine once all that nearby development is in place.
But everyone is holding his/her cards close to the vest. The whistler wants to be protected before offering data that would prove that a corrupt judge is at the center of this web. The off-the-grid go-between has had dealings with this gang before, and although the gang is mainly interested in building things, raking off profits, accepting protection fees and off-shoring lots of laundered cash, the gang does not mind knocking someone off if it becomes necessary. In fact at least one person we have come to like does get killed and Lacy almost dies. As usual John Grisham puts himself and us at the intersection of human greed and human corruption.
Exactly how corrupt is the Honorable Claudia McDover? Is she worth taking down? Lacy is definitely in way over her head and even before she has any real proof to go on there is a target on her and her partner. This is one hot case for a pair used to going after small time judicial misconduct.
John Grisham, while he does not suck us in quite the way he did in his early books, still gives us a thriller that manages to cover both whistle-blowing and the human love affair with money however it is obtained. It is perfect for a weekend when TV is a wasteland, as it is most weekends, and if you like Grisham’s book you should enjoy The Whistler.