In this tougher sequel, we again meet the memorable writer Mercer Mann, sidelined here by bookshop owner (and libertine) Bruce Cable. Cable is dealing with both a hurricane that has devastated the island and the death of a novelist friend, the latter killed not by the disaster but by savage blows to the head. The storm and its aftermath separate this novel from the light romantic tone of its predecessor and vividly conjure a bucolic island reduced to ruin.
Bruce and his pals become convinced that Nelson wasn’t a storm victim, as the police lazily assume; instead it was a hit job designed to stop him exposing a healthcare scandal in his next novel. Compared with its predecessor, the follow-up is less cohesive, less about the literary world and — because he hands over the investigation to the same agency that had investigated him — contains less Bruce. But there’s ample compensation as Grisham packs more material in: on conditions in exploitative nursing homes, the methods of contract killers and, above all, the impact on Florida of 2018’s Hurricane Michael (here called Leo).
Is prolonging the misery of thousands of dementia patients for financial gain (thanks to a dodgy Chinese drug) a suitable subject for a light-hearted caper? The narrative is relentlessly linear, the plot perfunctory and the vocabulary would scarcely trouble readers of John Grisham’s series of young adult novels that feature the lovely Theodore Boone. Italy, for example, is “spectacular” and “picturesque”. He has written some brilliant books, but this isn’t one of them.