Camino Island, by John Grisham

GatsbyMS One of the greatest literary treasures in the United States, F.Scott Fitzgerald’s hand-written manuscripts are stolen from the Firestone Library on Princeton University’s campus by a gang of five: Denny, a former Army ranger kicked out of the military; Mark, a professional thief with a history of “smash-and-grab” jobs involving art and artifacts ransomed back to the original owners; Jerry and Trey, petty thieves who met in prison; and Ahmed, a computer hacker.

The heist happens quickly in John Grisham’s latest novel, Camino Island, and serves as a backdrop for the real intrigue: where have the manuscripts gone after some of the thieves are caught; and how can Princeton get them back.

Enter Elaine Shelby, an insurance investigator. Mercer Mann, young, broke, aspiring writer with a past that includes time in Camino Island, Florida. Bruce Cable, owner of Bay Books, acquirer of valuable books, Southern dandy, and book (and author) lover. In his own mind he is “a well-read playboy” and an ambitious businessman.

seersucker“He owned a dozen different seersucker suits, each with a different shader color, and he wore one every day, along with a starched white shirt with a spread collar, and a loud bow tie, usually either red or yellow. His ensemble was completed with a pair of dirty buckskins, no socks. He never wore socks, not even in January when the temperatures dipped into the forties. His hair was thick and wavy, and he wore it long, almost to his shoulders. He shaved once a week on Sunday morning. By the time he was thirty, some gray was working itself into the picture, a few whiskers and a few strands of the long hair, and it was quite becoming.”

Elaine, the insurance investigator, believes Bruce Cable has the manuscripts. She wants Mercer to return to Camino Island, the home of Mercer’s grandmother, and infiltrate the community’s cabal of eccentric authors as a means of getting close to Cable, who has quite the reputation for his way with the lady authors.

The New York Times said Camino Island reads like it was written while John Grisham took a vacation from writing John Grisham novels. Grisham has a lot of fun with books, authors, and characterizations. The romance writer who “you won’t believe has ever had sex with anybody,” the literary writer who pens “really impenetrable stuff the stores can’t give away,” the alcoholic novelist whose been in and out of rehab so often everyone’s lost count, the “vampire girl” young adult novelist, the poet “snob,” etc.

Camino IslandMy favorite depiction is that of Bay Books, Cable’s island store.

. . . the smells of new books, and coffee, and, from somewhere, the hint of pipe smoke. She adored the saggy shelves, the piles of books on the floors, the ancient rugs, the racks of paperbacks, the colorful section for bestsellers at 25 percent off! From across the store she took in the First Editions Room, a handsome paneled area with open windows and hundreds of the more expensive books.

Camino Island is a fun place to visit and talk about books. Learn a little, live a little. Pass it on.

MENU

Food from the book

Shrimp Risotto with bread and wine

This recipe from epicurious.com for Shrimp Risotto looks good: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/shrimp-risotto-4970

Champagne and pizza

Margaritas with grouper tacos

I would serve the Margaritas and grouper tacos. Yum.

© Sarah Elliott for Jenni KayneFrom http://ripandtan.jennikayne.com/cocktail-of-the-day-the-hemingway-margarita/

By Greg Murnion
Servings:1
Units:
US Imperial
Metric
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Combined all and enjoy!

 

MUSIC

Of course, you could go all Jimmy Buffett. Or add a little variety with some of these:

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay, Otis Redding

Island Girl, Elton John

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Gordon Lightfoot

Don’t Bring Me Down (Bruce!), ELO

Sharp Dressed Man, ZZ Top

The Spy Who Loved Me, Carly Simon

Undercover Lover, .38 Special

MOVIE CASTING  simon baker

This is a fun one to think about casting, especially Bruce Cable. But the troupe of writers would be a great casting assignment too.

Elaine Shelby — Cate Blanchett is the obvious choice but Elizabeth Banks would be fun for this part

Mercer Mann — Emma Roberts

Noel — Margot Robbie

Bruce Cable — Simon Baker

Happy Reading!

 

 

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Making Art, Waging War: The Stockholm Octavo

theseeker

Emil Larsson has a problem. He needs a wife or he will lose his job as a sekretaire in 18th Century Stockholm; a job that has brought him a good income, legitimate and illegitimately taking bribes from the ships he inspects at night in the harbor of “The Town,” Gamla Stan.  To help him find an answer to this most pressing romantic problem, despite the upheaval of revolution in France that is spreading its message toward Sweden, he turns to his friend Mrs. Sparrow and her unique brand of fortune-telling:  The Octavo.

“I have come to believe that we are ruled by numbers, Mr. Larsson.  I believe that God is no father, but an infinite cipher and that is best expressed in the eight.  Eight is the ancient symbol of eternity.  Resting it is the sign that mathematicians call the lemniscate.  Raised upright it is man, destined to fall into infinity again.  There is a mathematical expression of this philosophy called the Divine Geometry.”

Emil begins his search for the eight who make up his Octavo, encountering a cross-dressing calligrapher, a French fan-making emigre, a runaway bride, and most fascinatingly, the Uzanne, a widowed baroness, fan collector, instructor of maidenly “arts” and defender of the aristocracy.  The Uzanne uses every means within the realm, and some that are not of an earthly nature, to enforce her dogmatic will.  Her favorite tool in waging her own war is a mysterious and beautiful fan called “Cassiopeia.” Oh, and magic.

turquoise_green_fan_png___updated_by_jssanda-d4snb1w

It the book sounds like an intriguing 18th Century mash-up of The DaVinci Code and The Witches of Eastwick, that’s what I thought too.  It is not.  Amid all the interesting references to card reading, the revolution in Europe, the mysteries of the Divine Eight, how to use a fan to cause men to pass out-do your bidding-fall madly in love in an instant, etc., I found the novel lost momentum about halfway through and became rather a chore to finish.  The elements of fascination were there, and I definitely would like to read more about fans.  But ultimately, Emil was not a protagonist that garnered my sympathy.  He was too foolish and easily swayed to root for him in his quest.  Mrs. Sparrow went AWOL for much of the novel.  And no other central character in Karen Engelmann’s novel proved particularly sympathetic

The much more interesting conflict, and one less focused, in this book:  against the backdrop of revolution and class warfare … and ultimately war, Emil’s friend calligrapher Fredrik Lind, the French fan-maker Christian Norden, and the Uzanne herself, attempt to preserve art in the face of war.  In The Stockholm Octavo, the artists are conquered by the magicians and warriors at least temporarily.

The Monuments Men explores a based-on-real-life story of another eight men tasked with saving art in a time of war.  George Clooney, who wrote the script with his buddy Grant Heslov, gives himself a wonderful monologue that is at the very crux of art and war.

“While we must and will win this war, we should also remember the high price that will be paid if the very foundation of modern society is destroyed.  They tells us no one cares about art.  But they’re wrong.  It is the exact reason that we’re fighting, for culture, for a way of life.  We are at a point in this war where that is the most dangerous to the greatest historical achievements known to man.  You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground, and somehow they’ll still find a way back.   But if you destroy their history, destroy their achievements, then it’s as if they never existed.  That’s what Hitler wants.  That is exactly what we’re fighting for.”

The Monuments Men save art in the lap of war.  The Uzanne plans to use art to make war.  Why wage war if not to save art?  Perhaps the answer is written only in the night sky.Cassiopeia

If you decide to choose “The Stockholm Octavo,” for your book club, I offer a delightful recipe from my grandmother’s recipe box, written in her own hand.  It’s a meatball soup, chosen by me due to the Swedish meatball refrain that has run continuously through my mind.  I would serve this with wine, lots of wine in the book, and make sugar cookies in the shape of fans for dessert.  A lovely soundtrack for your evening would be George Winston’s Winter into Spring c.d. (1982).  Of course, if you want to be tongue-in-cheek and/or prior to discussion, ABBA would be fun!

Meatball Soup

Cover several beef bones with 3 quarts water, bring to boil, simmer 4 hours.  Strain, chill and skim off fat.  Add to broth, 1/2 cup diced carrots, 1/2 cup thin sliced onions, 1/2 cut fine cut celery, 1/2 cup sized white turnips, 1 package frozen corn and 1/2 can of tomatoes, 4 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/4 teaspoon basil.

For meatballs:  1 pound ground been, 4 slices stale bread (soak in water and squeeze dry), 1 egg (slightly beaten) 1 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, 3/4 teaspoon thyme.  Make 3 dozen tiny meatballs and add to soup.  Simmer about 30 minutes.