47 pages 1 hour read

John Grisham

Camino Island

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2017

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Summary and Study Guide


Camino Island, by John Grisham, is the first book in his new Camino series, published in 2017 by Anchor. The novel is a departure from the legal thrillers that Grisham is known for, and he did his first book tour in years in order to promote it. Grisham’s career began in 1989 with his debut novel, A Time to Kill, and since then, his novels have been translated into nearly 50 languages. He boasts 47 consecutive #1 bestsellers, has twice won the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction, and has received the Library of Congress Creative Achievement Award for Fiction. Grisham is also on the board of directors of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that works toward the exoneration of the wrongly convicted.

This study guide uses the e-book version of the novel, published in 2017 by Anchor.

Plot Summary

Princeton University’s Firestone Library is the home of a priceless treasure: the original manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s five novels. A team of five thieves execute an audacious plan to steal the manuscripts and though they succeed, their victory is short-lived. Two team members are quickly arrested and Denny, the leader, is forced to sell the manuscripts to a rare book dealer for a mere half million dollars, far less than they are worth, before escaping to Panama.

Several months later Denny returns, determined to track down the manuscripts and get what they are worth. He finally finds them with Bruce Cable, the owner of Bay Books, an independent bookstore on Camino Island in Florida. His arrival on the island doesn’t bode well for Bruce, as Denny proves himself to be both determined and ruthless, to the point of killing one of his own team.

The insurance company that covers the manuscripts for Princeton is conducting their own investigation, which also leads them to Bruce Cable. The head of the investigation, Elaine Shipley, hires Mercer Mann, a writer with ties to Camino Island, to go undercover in the writing community. Her mission is to infiltrate Bruce’s group of friends, get to know him, and gain access to his rare book vault, in which Elaine suspects the manuscripts are being kept.

Mercer reluctantly agrees to the job because she, as an unemployed writer with student loan debt, needs the money. However, she knows that the assignment won’t be easy for her—Camino Island has an important place in her childhood. Her grandmother, Tessa, lived on Camino Island, and Mercer spent many happy childhood summers with her there. Since Tessa died 11 years previously, Mercer hasn’t returned to the island, and isn’t sure how she will feel about doing so now.

With Elaine’s help, Mercer fits in easily with the writing community on Camino Island, and gets to know Bruce and his wife, Noelle, among others. As she gets closer to Bruce, and even comes to like him, she discovers that Elaine was right—he’s in possession of at least one of the Fitzgerald manuscripts. When she confirms this to Elaine, the FBI enters the investigation with a search warrant for Bruce’s basement vault. Mercer is taken off-island to make a statement to the FBI, and doesn’t return.

However, when the FBI search Bruce’s vault, they come up empty-handed. As he reveals later, Bruce has been onto Mercer since the beginning, and has carefully manipulated the entire situation to his advantage. After he shows one of the manuscripts to Mercer, he ships all five off the island, and eventually to France. There, he and Noelle arrange to ransom the manuscripts to Princeton, one at a time, for the sum of $4 million each. Princeton and Elaine’s company split the cost of the ransom, and while the manuscripts are recovered, Bruce’s involvement is never discovered, and he walks away with $20 million.

Months later, Bruce finds Mercer teaching at a university in Illinois. He confesses that he knew about her motives from the beginning, but invites her to return to the island. He and Noelle hold no grudge for her duplicity, and the other writers on the island miss her, and would welcome her back. He leaves Mercer undecided as to whether she will ever return to Camino Island, but in the end, they have forgiven each other, and parted friends.