Review: ‘Camino Winds’ by John Grisham

Camino Winds brings back many of the characters from Camino Island, a novel the New York Times aptly decribed as “a delightfully lighthearted caper.” Camino Winds begins with wind, the monster hurricane Leo that takes aim at the Florida Island with deadly intentions and mind-numbing accuracy.  In her blurb, author Delia Owens (Where the Crawdads Sing) calls this second book in the series a “wild but smart caper.”

The novel is easy to read but the most exciting part of the caper is provided by the hurricane, and this is where we find the book’s most effective writing. A man is killed during the story, purportedly by falling tree limbs, but bookstore owner Bruce Cable of Bay Books doesn’t think so. The local police don’t seem interested, so the caper aspect of the novel begins when Bruce and his friends start trying to find out what really happened.

They begin by disturbing the crime scene, borrowing the dead man’s car, and appropriating the food and liquor in his kitchen that will dertainly go bad if left for any forensic techs who might one day show up. The dead man, an author named Nelson Kerr–among those who hung out at Bay Books–won’t miss the food and probably wouldn’t begrudge the amateur sleuths a great meal and all the high-priced drink they can handle, which turns out not to be a lot.

Kerr as apparently writing a novel about something that somebody didn’t like so, probably–the amateur sleuths speculate–the killer was mixed up in the pièce de ré·sis·tance crime Kerr plans to thinly diguise as fiction in his new thriller. If so, they no doubt wanted to stop him before (a) he finished the book, or (b) the book get to a publisher if he did finish it.

Bruce, et. al. have some good ideas, the kind that just might get them killed. If they (the sleuths) were black ops types, they dould take the next step and go after the bad guys with enough gear that woud make Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler exited. But they aren’t, so they can’t, and they don’t. For the reader, this means a lot of time is spent listening to the characters’ pondering which, fortunately, is punctuated with a few laughs, scares, and dicoveries along the way.

They mean well. They’re likeable. And they keep pushing on whoever they can influence until heavy hitters become involved and the crime is solved. Until then, nothing much happens. When the pros show up, a considerable amount of time is spent describing how the bad guys scammed the government out of a lot of money while hurting everyday people. Yes, we suspect this kind of thing is true. But how they (the bad guys) do what they do takes the focus of the story simultaneously closer to its climax and farther away from the main characters.

This is an unsatisfying plot solution. The characters who begin the caper really need to end the caper. If you read every Grisham novel, you’ll nonetheless have fun reading this one. If you don’t, you won’t.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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Review: ‘The Guardians’ by John Grisham

Innocence Projects track down individuals who appear to have been wrongly convicted, analyze their cases, and seek to have them exonerated by proving that the original trials were flawed, witnesses lied, evidence was improperly handled, or possibly that everything beginning with the arrest was a total and expedient fabrication.

John Grisham turns in another winning and compelling novel with The Guardians, about a nonprofit innocence project that runs on a shoestring with dedicated personnel and a thorough and tenacious approach to the law that gets results.

Lawyer and priest Cullen Post believes Quincy Miller’s 22 years in prison for a murder he did not commit represent not only a miscarriage of justice but brought additional power and financial gain to a small-town Florida sheriff and the criminals he sheltered, aided, and abetted. Proving Quincy Miller’s innocence is a tall order, perhaps impossible, especially when those who framed him want him to quietly rot in prison dead or alive.

The book is an exciting mix of courtroom work and investigative work. The courtroom work can be slow. The investigative work is slower because after 22 years those two lied at the original trial have scattered on the winds and don’t want to be found, much less recant. The more successful The Guardians is in exposing flaws in the original arrest and trial, the more likely thugs hear about it can come out of the woodwork–and they don’t place nicely.

The book reads well, keeps the excitement and tension at a high level, and exposes readers to the concept of innocence work and how it is done. The reader becomes aware early on that neither Cullen Post nor Quincy Miller has any guarantees that they’ll make it out of this novel alive.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Fate’s Arrows,” the fourth in a series of novels set in a small Florida town in the 1950s when the KKK was active.

Memories of being laid off

As I re-read John Grisham’s novel Gray Mountain about a law firm that lays off maybe a thousand workers during a financial crisis, I couldn’t help but remember my layoff from Big Ass Software, Inc. Several days after 9/11, our department manager assured all of us that the company and our jobs were secure.

I was writing online documentation for a printing application that had so many parts to it that it looked like the documentation would never be finished. My salary was high enough that my wife and I could live on half of it and save half of it.

In spite of the promises, our entire division was laid off. There was a chance I could remain employed if I wanted to move to Pennsylvania. I didn’t.

In Grisham’s novel, the laid-off employees are considered furloughed with a chance of returning after a year if they agree to work at no salary for a nonprofit organization. I might have accepted that option if Big Ass Software had made such an offer. Samantha, Grisham’s protagonist ends up working gratis for a legal aid group in Appalachia where–since this is a thriller–a lot of bad stuff starts happening.

Fortunately, I never ended up in a mystery/thriller lifestyle like that. I do think, though, that laws should make it more difficult for companies to layoff employees over fifty for the simple reason that almost nobody will hire them. I had multiple interviews, but no viable offers. Why? Age discrimination.

If you’re on the verge of being considered elderly (over 50) keep your job or, possibly, go to work fighting BIG COAL in Appalachia.

Malcolm

Writers write: that’s what we do

I don’t know whether writing is an addiction, a calling, or just one job out of the many we could have chosen. The down side to writing novels is that if one doesn’t become famous or sort of famous, there’s no money in it. I often wish I’d become a freelance writer with a lot of magazine and newspaper writing opportunities.

I’d be earning a living with my words even though it wouldn’t be James Patterson, Dan Brown or Nora Roberts kind of money. Since I write contemporary fantasy and magical realism, it’s a paradox that the money I did make from writing came from writing computer documentation and help files. I can be intensely logical when I want to, so my user manuals were always well thought of.

The thing is, being intensely logical isn’t the real me. In fact, though I often rely on it, I’m not a fan of logic because I think it gives us an inaccurate picture of the world. While I was working on my novel-in-progress today, I thought of all this.  I thought, “why do writers have to write” and “There must be another occupation that pays better.”

Like being a grave digger, maybe.

I thank the writing gods and the muses that I don’t want to write poetry. Good Lord, there’s a thankless task, more thankless than writing novels. I admire poetry, but really, I can’t write it and don’t ever buy books and magazines filled with it. I grieve for the poets.

But I also mourn the fact that writing novels is partly skill and craft and partly a popularity contest. If your name is James Patterson or John Grisham, you make money no matter what you do. Everyone else is ignored by reviewers and bookstores and don’t really want to tell friends they write novels because they’ll say they’ve never heard of them.

Early on, I wanted to work for the railroads. That would have been a much safer choice. I like trains, I really do. I was once a volunteer at a railway museum. Most of us there were jealous of the people who worked for Amtrak or the freight railroads. Whether they loved their jobs or not, they made a living wage. Writers don’t. But we keep writing because, in many ways, writing is not only a lot of fun, it’s a career we can’t do without.

So, maybe writing is an addiction.

But, it’s a fun addition once you realize there’s not going to be any money in it anymore than few of those who play little league baseball are going to end up playing for a major league team and being selected for the All Star Game.

If you’re an aspiring writer, I know this post doesn’t sound very encouraging. As Patti Smith acknowledged in M Train, writers are bums.  So, it’s best to know that’s the reality of the biz at the outset.

–Malcolm