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John Grisham Novel Camino Island Includes Portland State And A Portland Story Idea

john grisham

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I was cruising Costco and in between food samples of tangy chicken, yogurt drinks, and a new pasta, rolled through the book aisle.


There’s something magic about stacks of books in a big box store. If you’ve got a book on the table you’re a real writer? You’ve arrived? Or is it something worse?


That’s where I found John Grisham’s latest, Camino Island. I was surprised, but not for the usual reasons.


Since I’m a library card reader, buying a new book anywhere is a big decision. I’ve got books in my house I’ve lugged around for years with a self promise of reading them one day. Book I’ve carried from Philadelphia to Eugene to Brooklyn to Portland, and finally to Tigard.


I’d like to cull the herd, but they’re as promising a read now as the day I bought them. But I haven’t read some of them. Call it something to look forward to. In the meantime, look a new John Grisham book.


Ordinarily I’d pick it up, turn a few pages, and put it down, but not this time, not when he opens with reference to Portland State and University of Oregon. Thinking ‘Jackpot’, I put it in the cart. Such a deal.


My wife read it first, then me during a beach trip, blasting through in no time, which isn’t a slam on the author in spite of what others say. I’ve said the same, but reading a beachy book at the beach was nice.


I’ve looked, probably not hard enough, for the Oregon novel of novels, a book to show the Oregon I see. From Sometimes A Great Notion, to Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me, the story is still out there.




Richard FariƱa evokes the Sixties as precisely, wittily, and poignantly as F. Scott Fitzgerald captured the Jazz Age. The hero, Gnossus Pappadopoulis, weaves his way through the psychedelic landscape, encountering-among other things-mescaline, women, art, gluttony, falsehood, science, prayer, and, occasionally, truth.


Could John Grisham crack to Oregon code? Since he started with PSU, U of O, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, I had to find out. That he didn’t meet my hopes, but instead wrote a story different for him, was no disappointment.


Camino Island in the story is an island off of Florida. The character I found appealing is a thirty-something academic/novelist. What’s not to like? A writer writing about writers. Another is a used book guy with a popular store and circle of writer friends. Again, nice, but not exactly Oregon.


Instead of continuing with Portland State, the South Park Blocks with the Portland Art Museum and the Oregon Historical Society, John Grisham gives us a southern tale. Where Pat Conroy dives into the manly emotions of the South, Grisham goes girly. Since it’s a caper story about stealing the original handwritten manuscripts of five F. Scott Fitzgerald books from Princeton, it’s not too delicate.


If he was looking for a city to set another book in, Portland waits her turn. We’ve got Powell’s used books, fabulous writer groups with famous writers, and plenty of mystery. Go, Johnny, go.


Here’s the book I want to read: A young museum collections worker gets assigned to find artifacts from a soon to be demolished Fox Theater on SW Broadway. Instead of finding objects documenting the racially divided past of this most liberal of cities, he finds a hidden stairway to a sealed off upper floor.



Originally the theater had red plush seating on the ground floor and balcony, with upper level seating made of plank benches with a canvas pad center cushion stuffed with hay. During it’s run as a vaudeville venue, African Americans and Chinese used an outside stairway to find their plank seats while white Portland entered through the front doors.


During his artifact search the museum guy gently pries apart one of the plank benches and finds the mummified remains of a former Portland mayor. He hears a rustling sound behind him just as his flashlight battery dies.


And then…
About David Gillaspie
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