A light caper turns into a multilayered game of cat and mouse in a story that, as with most of Grisham’s (The Whistler, 2016, etc.) crime yarns, never gets too complex or deep but is entertaining all the same.
Bruce Cable is a bon vivant–ish owner of a bookstore specializing in rarities, which ought to mean he’s covered in dust instead of Florida sunshine. But he’s an aging golden boy, the perfect draw for young aspiring novelist and cute thing Mercer Mann, who’s attracted to books and Bruce and the literary scene he’s created on formerly sleepy Camino Island. It takes us a while to get to the smooth-operating Bruce, though, because Grisham’s first got to set up, with all due diligence, the misdeed to be attended to: the theft of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s manuscripts from the Princeton library. Now, who wouldn’t want the mojo associated with holding a piece of paper out of Fitzgerald’s typewriter? Suspicion falls on Bruce, whereupon Mercer enters the picture, for a novel way has been presented to her to pay off some crushing student loans. (Always timely, Grisham is.) Eventually, Bruce and Mercer are reading between the lines and searching for clues between the sheets (“We’re not talking about love; we’re talking about sex,” Grisham writes, with a perfectly correct semicolon). But was it Bruce who pulled off the literary crime of the century? Maybe, and maybe not; Grisham leaves us guessing even as he makes clear that literary criminals don’t have to be nice guys in order to be good at their work: “He died a horrible death, Oscar, it was awful,” one particularly menacing bookworm tells a quarry once the stolen manuscripts go missing a second time. “But before he died he gave me what I wanted. You.”
How all these little threads join up is a pleasure for Grisham fans to behold: there’s nothing particularly surprising about it, but he’s a skillful spinner of mayhem and payback.