Camino Island by John Grisham Book Review

Posted in: Novels
Camino Island by John Grisham book review read by critics

First of all, let’s begin with the author. Though well-known among followers of literary trends, John Grisham may be a new name to many. For all those,  John Grisham is a renowned American author best known for his gripping legal thrillers. Born on February 8, 1955, in Jonesboro, Arkansas, Grisham initially pursued a career in law before turning to writing. His breakout novel, “The Firm,” published in 1991, propelled him to international fame, and he has since authored numerous bestsellers, many of which have been adapted into successful films and television series. Grisham’s works are celebrated for their intricate plots, compelling characters, and insightful commentary on the legal system, making him a staple in contemporary American fiction.

In this article, I will share a book review of Grisham’s bestselling novel Camino Island. Let’s begin with a basic introduction to the book.

“Camino Island,” a departure from John Grisham’s usual courtroom dramas, ventures into the world of literary theft and coastal charm. Published in 2017, this novel combines elements of a heist thriller with a deep appreciation for literature, offering readers a unique blend of suspense and bibliophilic pleasure. This review examines the novel’s strengths and weaknesses, assessing its impact and appeal.

Plot and Structure:
“Camino Island” begins with a daring heist at Princeton University’s Firestone Library, where rare F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts are stolen. The narrative swiftly transitions to the idyllic, fictional Camino Island, where the stolen manuscripts are suspected to be hidden. Grisham introduces Mercer Mann, a struggling writer hired by a mysterious firm to infiltrate the life of Bruce Cable, a charismatic bookstore owner and rare books dealer who may be connected to the heist. The plot unfolds steadily, balancing the investigation with Mercer’s struggles and the vibrant life of the island community.

The characters in “Camino Island” are well-drawn and engaging. With his mix of charm, cunning, and genuine love for literature, Bruce Cable emerges as a compelling figure who blurs the lines between antagonist and ally. Mercer Mann’s evolution from a disenchanted writer to an amateur sleuth is believable and relatable, adding depth to her character. The supporting cast, including the eclectic members of the island’s literary scene, adds richness and colour to the story, creating a vibrant backdrop against which the main narrative plays out.

Themes and Setting:
Grisham’s exploration of themes such as the value of literature, the ethics of the rare book trade, and the personal cost of creativity lends a thought-provoking dimension to the novel. The setting of Camino Island, with its picturesque beaches, quaint bookstores, and close-knit community, is vividly depicted, evoking a strong sense of place that enhances the reader’s immersion in the story. This coastal paradise starkly contrasts the high-stakes world of literary theft, creating a unique and compelling tension.

One of the novel’s key strengths is its seamless integration of a heist narrative with a love letter to literature. Grisham’s detailed descriptions of the rare book trade and the inner workings of the literary world are informative and engaging, appealing to readers with a passion for books. The pacing is well-managed, maintaining suspense while allowing for character development and exploring the novel’s thematic elements. Grisham’s prose is also clear and accessible, making “Camino Island” an easy yet satisfying read.

Despite its strengths, “Camino Island” is not without flaws. The plot, while intriguing, lacks the intricate complexity and legal twists that fans of Grisham’s legal thrillers might expect. Some readers may find the heist’s resolution somewhat anticlimactic, with specific plot threads tied up too neatly. Additionally, the motivations and backgrounds of some secondary characters are not as fully developed, which can leave aspects of the narrative feeling superficial. While not detracting significantly from the novel’s overall enjoyment, these elements limit its depth and impact.


How does this novel stand out?

A few other prominent novels share the theme of literary theft. However, John Grisham’s work does stand out. There are many qualities in the novel that help its case. What helps it the most is its unique combination of a heist thriller with a deep dive into the world of rare books, all set against the backdrop of a picturesque, coastal island community. Let’s have a look at other factors that distinguish “Camino Island”:

1. Blend of Genres:
While many novels about literary theft focus heavily on the mystery or historical aspects, “Camino Island” successfully blends the suspense of a heist thriller with a laid-back, beachside atmosphere. This juxtaposition provides a refreshing twist, combining the tension of a crime story with the relaxed vibe of a summer read.

2. Character Focus:
The novel’s characters are well-developed and multifaceted, especially Bruce Cable, the charismatic bookstore owner, and Mercer Mann, the struggling writer-turned-sleuth. Grisham invests considerable effort into fleshing out their personal lives and motivations, making them more relatable and engaging than typical characters in heist narratives.

3. Literary Appreciation:
Grisham’s detailed portrayal of the rare book trade and the literary community sets “Camino Island” apart. The novel is a homage to book lovers and bibliophiles, filled with insights into the world of rare manuscripts, the intricacies of book collecting, and the reverence for great literature. This literary depth adds an extra layer of appeal for readers passionate about books.

4. Realistic Heist Elements:
Unlike some novels that veer into the fantastical or overly dramatic when depicting thefts, “Camino Island” maintains a sense of realism. The heist and subsequent investigation are portrayed with a plausible and methodical approach, enhancing the story’s credibility and pull.

5. Setting:
With its charming coastal ambience and tight-knit community, the fictional Camino Island provides a distinctive and engaging setting that contrasts sharply with the urban or historical settings commonly found in other literary theft novels. This unique locale contributes to the novel’s appeal, offering readers an escapist experience alongside the intrigue.

6. Contemporary Context:
“Camino Island” is set in a contemporary context, which makes it more accessible to modern readers compared to historical literary theft novels. The modern-day setting, complete with current cultural references and technology, resonates well with today’s audience.

“Camino Island” distinguishes itself through its genre-blending narrative, well-crafted characters, and evocative setting. John Grisham’s deep appreciation for literature and the rare book trade, coupled with a realistic portrayal of a high-stakes heist, makes the novel stand out in literary theft stories. Its contemporary and accessible approach appeals to a broad audience, including mystery enthusiasts and book lovers.


“Camino Island” showcases John Grisham’s versatility as a storyteller, offering a refreshing departure from his typical legal dramas. The novel’s blend of literary intrigue, engaging characters, and a richly depicted setting make it a compelling read for Grisham fans and newcomers alike. While it may not possess the same level of complexity as his courtroom thrillers, its charm and unique premise ensure that “Camino Island” stands out in Grisham’s oeuvre. For those seeking a suspenseful yet laid-back read, this novel delivers a delightful literary escape to a sun-soaked island of secrets.




Review by Manish for ReadByCritics

Camino Island by John Grisham Book Review
  • Critical Rating by Manish


It was exciting. Readable and enjoyable throughout. However, you may sometimes believe you have been pushed off the cliff of expectations. Tread carefully! 🙂

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