Debuted: June 15 2017

John Grisham is full of surprises this summer:

First, the best-selling author who reliably delivers legal thrillers in the fall (as he will this year) is publishing a book in June.

Next, he’s going on a bookstore tour for fans who haven’t seen him on the signing circuit for a quarter-century.

And finally, he’s given us Camino Island (Doubleday, 290 pp., ***½ out of four stars), a fresh, fun departure from his usual fare.

Oh, don’t worry, Grisham-ites. Smart plotting, clever criminals and law-enforcement types are all here, but this one stays out of the courtroom. Instead, we go into the inner sanctums of … bookstores. Say what?

Sheer catnip for book critics like me, and I think readers who don’t usually gravitate to Grisham will get a kick out of Camino Island, which takes us inside the (sometimes dodgy) world of rare-book collecting. (Grisham is hardly the first novelist to find this a juicy topic. See Bradford Morrow’s yummy The Forgers and John Dunning’s terrific Cliff Janeway series.)

Grisham’s languid (hey, it’s summer) thriller begins with a shocking heist at Princeton University’s Firestone Library, as a crew of crooks pulls off a literary crime for the ages, absconding with the original manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels. The Great Gatsby, gone!

The manuscripts are priceless, of course, but the thieves know somebody will pay for them. The FBI is on the case, but so is a security firm working for Princeton’s insurance company (liability: $25 million). The security firm thinks it knows who may have bought the merchandise — a prominent, well-liked Florida bookstore owner named Bruce Cable who’s made a sketchy deal or three in the past — but it needs somebody on the inside.

Enter Mercer Mann, a young, debt-ridden novelist with serious writer’s block and family ties to Camino Island and the resort town of Santa Rosa. She’s the bait, Bruce the target. Will Mercer sleep with the charismatic bookseller (a notorious bon vivant and philanderer who wears seersucker suits) to get close to the precious Fitzgerald manuscripts, if Cable indeed has them?

The chase is on, but Grisham has more on his mind, like the fortunes of independent bookstores and the dubious talents…