Camino Ghosts: A Novel

Camino Ghosts: A Novel

by John Grisham

Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, John Grisham

Unabridged — 10 hours, 17 minutes

Camino Ghosts: A Novel

Camino Ghosts: A Novel

by John Grisham

Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, John Grisham

Unabridged — 10 hours, 17 minutes

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Notes From Your Bookseller

The third installment in the Camino series, taking you from the page to the luscious Camino Island, where the clever capers continue.

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER ¿ John Grisham takes you back to Camino Island, where bookseller Bruce Cable and novelist Mercer Mann always manage to find trouble in paradise.

Mercer Mann, a popular writer from Camino Island, is back on the beach, marrying her boyfriend, Thomas, in a seaside ceremony. Bruce Cable, infamous owner of Bay Books, performs the wedding. Afterward, Bruce tells Mercer that he has stumbled upon an incredible story. Mercer desperately needs an idea for her next novel, and Bruce now has one.

The true story is about Dark Isle, a sliver of a barrier island not far off the North Florida coast. It was settled by freed slaves three hundred years ago, and their descendants lived there until 1955, when the last one was forced to leave. That last descendant is Lovely Jackson, elderly now, who loves her birthplace and its remarkable history. But now Tidal Breeze, a huge, ruthless corporate developer, wants to build a resort and casino on the island, which Lovely knows, deep down, is rightfully hers.

Mercer befriends Lovely, and they plunge into an enormous fight over who owns Dark Isle, taking on Tidal Breeze Corporation, its lawyers, lobbyists, and powerful Florida politicians. But Lovely knows something about the island that could seriously cloud the dollar signs in the developer's eyes: the island is cursed. It has remained uninhabited for nearly a century for some very real and very troubling reasons. The deep secrets of the past are about to collide with the enormous ambitions of the present, and the fate of Dark Isle-and Camino Island, too-hangs in the balance.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Praise for Camino Ghosts

“Light-hearted . . . The Camino books have felt like palate cleansers for Grisham, something fun to do before tackling the weightier issues that usually form the backbone of books such as The Client. . . . Grisham makes sure the book moves like the winds that buffet his fictional island.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

Praise for the Camino Island series

“A fresh, fun departure . . . sheer catnip . . . a most agreeable summer destination.”USA Today
“The type of wild but smart caper that Grisham’s readers love.”—Delia Owens, bestselling author of Where the Crawdads Sing

“A happy lark [that] provides the pleasure of a leisurely jaunt periodically jolted into high gear, just for the fun and speed of it.”The New York Times Book Review

“Escapist entertainment . . . with elements of a more traditional Grisham thriller.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Praise for John Grisham

“The best thriller writer alive.”—Ken Follett

JUNE 2024 - AudioFile

Whoopi Goldberg proves to be the perfect voice for John Grisham's fascinating mystery about a haunted island off the coast of Florida settled by escaped enslaved people in the 1700s and now marked for development into a casino resort. She captures the courage and determination of the characters as, each in their own way, they try to save the uninhabited and inhospitable Dark Isle. Goldberg is particularly adept at portraying novelist Mercer Mann, who becomes fascinated with the island and with its last inhabitant and designated owner, Lovely Jackson. With the help of a small bookstore owner from nearby Camino Island and a handful of others, Mann tries to tell the story of the island and its people and stop the developers from turning the historic island into a playground for the wealthy. M.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2024, Portland, Maine

Kirkus Reviews

A descendant of enslaved people fights a Florida developer over the future of a small island.

In 1760, the slave ship Venus breaks apart in a storm on its way to Savannah, and only a few survivors, all Africans, find their way safely to a tiny barrier island between Florida and Georgia. For two centuries, only formerly enslaved people and their descendants live there. A curse on white people hangs over the island, and none who ever set foot on it survive. Its last resident was Lovely Jackson, who departed as a teen in 1955. Today—well, in 2020—a developer called Tidal Breeze wants Florida’s permission to “develop” Dark Isle, which sits within bridge-building distance from the well-established Camino Island. The plot is an easy setup for Grisham, big people vs. little people. Lovely’s revered ancestors are buried on Dark Isle, which Hurricane Leo devastated from end to end. Lovely claims the islet’s ownership despite not having formal title, and she wants white folks to leave the place alone. But apparently Florida doesn’t have enough casinos and golf courses to suit some people. Surely developers can buy off that little old Black lady with a half million bucks. No? How about a million? “I wish they’d stop offering money,” Lovely complains. “I ain’t for sale.” Thus a non-jury court trial begins to establish ownership. The story has no legal fireworks, just ordinary maneuvering. The real fun is in the backstory, in the portrayal of the aptly named Lovely, and the skittishness of white people to step on the island as long as the ancient curse remains. Lovely has self-published a history of the island, and a sympathetic white woman named Mercer Mann decides to write a nonfiction account as well. When that book ultimately comes out, reviewers for Kirkus (and others) “raved on and on.” Don’t expect stunning twists, though early on Dark Isle gives four white guys a stark message. The tension ends with the judge’s verdict, but the remaining 30 pages bring the story to a satisfying conclusion.

Fine Grisham storytelling that his fans will enjoy.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940159216021
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 05/28/2024
Series: Camino , #3
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 200,015

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Passage


None of the fifty or so guests wore shoes. The invitation specifically ruled them out. It was, after all, a beach wedding, and Mercer Mann, the bride, wanted sand between the toes. The suggested attire was beach chic, which may have had one meaning in Palm Beach and another in Malibu, and probably something else in the Hamptons. But on Camino Island it meant anything goes. But no shoes.

The bride herself wore a low-cut white linen gown with an entirely bare back, and since she had been on the island for the past two weeks she was superbly tanned and toned. Stunning. Thomas, her groom, was just as lean and bronzed. He wore a brand-new powder blue seersucker suit, a starched white dress shirt, no tie. And of course no shoes.

Thomas was just happy to be included. He and Mercer had been together for three years, sharing an apartment for the past two, and when Mercer finally got tired of waiting for a proposal she had asked him, three months earlier, “What are you doing on Saturday, June sixth, at seven p.m.?”

“Well, I don’t know. I’ll have to check.”

“Say nothing.”


“Say you’re doing nothing.”

“Okay, I’m doing nothing. Why?”

“Because we’re getting married at the beach.”

Since he was not exactly a detail person, he had little input into the planning of the wedding. However, had he been detail-oriented it would not have mattered. Life with Mercer was wonderful in so many ways, not the least of which was the absence of responsibility for making decisions. The pressure was off.

A guitarist strummed love songs as the guests sipped champagne. She was a creative writing student of Mercer’s at Ole Miss and had volunteered for the wedding. A server in a straw hat topped off their glasses. He, too, was studying under Mercer, though she had yet to break the news that his fiction was too weird. If she were a blunt person she would point out that he was likely to earn more money tending bar at small weddings than trying to write novels, but she had yet to gain tenure or the ability to discourage students with little promise.

Mercer taught because she needed a salary. She had published a collection of short stories and two novels. She was searching for a third. Her last one, Tessa, had been a bestseller, and its success had prompted Viking Press to give her a two-book contract. Her editor at Viking was still waiting for the next story idea. So was Mercer. She had some money in the bank but not enough to retire, not enough to buy the freedom to write full-time with no worries.

A few of her guests had that freedom. Myra and Leigh, the grandes dames of the island’s literary mafia, had been together for decades and were living off royalties. Back in their glory days they had cranked out a hundred steamy romance novels under a dozen pseudonyms. Bob Cobb was an ex-felon who’d served time in a federal pen for bank fraud. He wrote hard-boiled crime stories, with a penchant for prison violence. When drinking, which was practically all the time, he claimed he had not pursued honest labor in twenty years. He was a writer! Perhaps the wealthiest of the group was Amy Slater, a young mother of three who’d hit pay dirt with a vampire series.

Amy and her husband, Dan, had taken a chunk of their money and built a splendid house on the beach, about half a mile from Mercer’s cottage. When they heard about the wedding, they insisted on hosting it along with the reception.

Like every bride, Mercer envisioned a lovely walk down the aisle with her father. He, though, got cut from the ceremony, as did the aisle. Mr. Mann was a complicated soul who had never spent time with his wife or daughters. When he complained that the wedding might conflict with his busy schedule, Mercer said never mind. They would have more fun without him.

Her sister, Connie, was there and could always be counted on for family drama. Her two rotten teenage girls were already sitting in the back row and staring at their phones. Her husband was gulping champagne. On the more pleasant side, her literary agent, Etta Shuttleworth, was there with her husband, as was her Viking editor, who no doubt wanted to grab a moment and inquire about the next novel, now a year overdue. Mercer was determined not to talk business. It was her wedding, and if the editor got the least bit pushy then Etta was expected to step in. Three sorority sisters from Sewanee were there, two with husbands. The third was fresh off an acrimonious divorce that Mercer had heard far too much about. All three had the hots for Thomas, and Mercer was keeping an eye on them. The fact that he was five years younger than his bride made him even sexier. Two colleagues from the Ole Miss faculty had survived the final cut of the invitation list and were spending a week on the island. Mercer got on with them well enough, but was cautious. She had invited them only to be polite. She was on her third campus in the past six years and had learned a lot about faculty politics. She was the only professor in the history of the Ole Miss English department to crack the bestseller lists with a novel, and at times she could feel the jealousy. An old pal from Chapel Hill had been invited but declined. Two friends from high school and one from kindergarten were there.

Thomas had a more stable family. His parents and siblings and their young children filled an entire row. Behind them was a rowdy bunch of college chums from his days at Grinnell.

The fake minister was Bruce Cable, owner of Bay Books and onetime lover of the bride, who began asking everyone to take a seat and squeeze closer to the front where a white wicker arch had been erected. It was laden with red and white roses and carnations and flanked by trellises on both sides. Beyond it was a hundred feet of white sand, then nothing but the Atlantic at high tide, a gorgeous view that stretched for miles until the planet curved. North Africa was four thousand miles away, a straight shot.

The guitarist kept strumming until Mercer and Thomas appeared on the boardwalk. They came down the steps, holding hands and smiling all the way to the arch where they were met by the fake minister.

It was not Bruce Cable’s first wedding. For some vague reason, Florida allowed almost anyone to buy a cheap permit from a clerk’s office, become an “officiant,” and conduct a civil wedding ceremony. Bruce had not known this, and had no interest in it whatsoever, until an old girlfriend wanted to get married on Camino Island and insisted on Bruce doing the honors.

That was the first. Mercer’s was the second. He wondered how many officiants had slept with all of their brides. Yes, on one occasion not too many years earlier he had slept with Mercer when she was spying on him, but that was ancient history. Noelle, his wife, knew about it. Thomas had been informed. Everyone was cool. It was all so civilized.

Well aware of Bruce’s tendency to go off-script, Mercer had carefully written their vows. Thomas, surprisingly, had been consulted and even added some language of his own. A former student from UNC rose and read a poem, an impenetrable hodgepodge in free verse that was supposed to heighten the romantic mood but instead caused the crowd to gaze at the waves breaking gently along the shore. Bruce managed to re-focus things by giving brief bios of the bride and groom and got a few laughs. The guitar player could also sing and she delighted the crowd with an impressive version of “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love).” Connie read a scene from Tessa, Mercer’s last novel, that was based loosely on their grandmother. In the story, Tessa walked the same stretch of beach every morning looking for turtle eggs laid the night before. She guarded the surf and dunes as if she owned them, and several in the crowd remembered her well. It was a poignant piece about a person who had greatly influenced the bride.

Bruce then got them through the vows, which, in his learned opinion, were a bit on the wordy side, a recurring problem with Mercer’s prose and one he was determined to correct. He loved his writers and nurtured them all, but he was also a tough critic. Oh well, it wasn’t his wedding.

They swapped rings, had a kiss, and bowed to the crowd as husband and wife. The crowd stood and applauded.

The entire service lasted twenty-two minutes.

The photography took longer, then everyone climbed onto the boardwalk and followed Mercer and Thomas over the dunes to the pool where more champagne was waiting. They had their first dance to “My Girl.” The DJ followed it with more Motown and the dancing caught on. Almost ten minutes passed before the first drunk, Connie’s husband, fell in the pool.

The most popular caterer on the island was Chef Claude, a real Cajun from South Louisiana. He and his team were busy on the patio while Noelle supervised the table arrangements and flowers. She was mostly French, and in matters of fine dining with all the trimmings she had no peer. Amy asked her to take charge of flowers, china, place settings, crystal, and flatware, along with the wine, which Noelle and Bruce were happy to select and order from their broker. Two long tables were set on the terrace under a canopy.

As the sun was setting, Chef Claude whispered to Amy that dinner was ready, and the guests were directed to their assigned seats. It was a rowdy bunch, with lots of laughter and admiration for the newlyweds. When the first bottle of Chablis made the rounds, Bruce, as always, called for quiet so he could wax on about the wine. Then platters of raw oysters arrived and covered the table. During the second course, shrimp remoulade, the toasts began and things began to go off-track. Thomas’s brother did a nice job but wasn’t much of a speaker. One of Mercer’s sorority sisters played the obligatory role of the crying bridesmaid and went on far too long. Bruce managed to cut her off with a splendid toast of his own. He then introduced the next wine, a fine Sancerre. Trouble started when Mercer’s brother-in-law, still wet from his splash in the pool and still drunk since midafternoon, stood and wobbled and tried to tell a funny story about one of Mercer’s old boyfriends. His timing was bad. His remarks were mercifully cut off when Connie snapped loudly, “That’s enough, Carl!”

Carl roared with laughter as he fell into his chair, and it took a few seconds before he realized no one else thought it funny. To break the tension, a frat brother from Grinnell jumped to his feet and read a raunchy poem about Thomas. As he read, the main course of grilled flounder was served. Verse after verse, the poem grew dirtier and funnier, and when it was over everyone was in stitches.

Amy had worried about the noise. The homes were built close together along the beach and noise carried. So, she had invited the neighbors on each side and introduced them to Mercer a week earlier. They were laughing and drinking harder than anyone.

Myra took the floor and told the story of the first time she and Leigh met Mercer, five years earlier when she returned to the island for the summer. “Her beauty was obvious, her charm was contagious, her manners were impeccable. But we wondered: Can she write? We secretly hoped that she couldn’t. With her latest novel, a masterpiece in my opinion, she proved to the world that she can indeed tell a beautiful story. Why do some people have all the luck?”

“Now Myra,” Leigh said softly.

Until then, most of the toasts and remarks seemed to have some measure of forethought. After that, though, everything was off the cuff and fueled by wine.

The dinner was long and delicious, and when it was over the older guests began leaving. The younger ones returned to the dance floor where the DJ took requests and turned the volume down.

Around midnight, Bruce found Mercer and Thomas at the edge of the pool with their feet in the water. He joined and told them again what a lovely wedding they had put together.

“When do you leave for Scotland?” he asked.

“Tomorrow at two,” Mercer replied. “We fly from Jacksonville to Washington, then nonstop to London.” The honeymoon was two weeks in the Highlands.

“Could you run by the store in the morning? I’ll have the coffee ready. We’ll need some.”

Thomas nodded and Mercer said, “Sure. What’s up?”

Bruce was suddenly serious. With a smug grin he looked at her and said, “I have the story, Mercer. Maybe the best I’ve ever heard.”

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