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Summer Reads: 3 Thrillers for Summer Afternoons

Summer is a nice time to get away from my usual reading topics and look for something off my beaten track. And one of the side tracks I most enjoy is a “thriller” that is more mystery than violence; more story than hard-boiled detective. Which brings me to John Grisham, prolific writer of 29 novels that entwine good writing, intriguing cases, and enough danger to keep things interesting. They are great vacation reads — no heavy thinking necessary.

In The Whistler [2016] protagonist, Lucy Stoltz, is a judicial investigator for the State of Florida. A job more about reports than danger. If someone has a complaint about a state judge, Stoltz and her partner Hugo Hatch check it out. Stoltz is neither well-paid, nor a person running on adrenaline until this case lands on her desk. Her informant, Greg Myers, is a disbarred lawyer who gets his information from someone who receives the details from a so-called whistler [slang for whistleblower.]

The plot twists and turns on issues of gambling, Native American lands, a mob boss, and a corrupt judge. Each piece of Grisham’s puzzle demonstrates how seemingly smooth rocks can be lifted up to show all manner of creatures with both simple and complex motives for their corrupt lives. As the truth comes out, the perpetrators receive their just rewards, even as corruption itself continues.

In his next book, Camino Island [2017], Grisham takes a break from his usual plot line — much to the disappointment of many readers. The book opens with a heist of rare F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from Princeton University, but turns its attention to small Camino Island off the Florida coast and rare book dealer Bruce Cable. Is he fencing the stolen manuscripts? The insurance company wants to know, and recruits Mercer Mann, a young writer drowning in student debt, to find out.

More mystery than thriller, Camino Island is well-written escapism.

John Grisham is a hard act to follow, but that doesn’t stop multitudes of writers from launching their own thrillers. Thin Air [2019] launches a new crime writer, Lisa Gray, and a new female detective, Jessica Shaw.

As the story begins, Jessica opens an email asking her to find a child kidnapped twenty-five years before. Jessica recognizes her three-year-old self in the attached photo.

Gray’s novel ties together two murders, twenty years apart, and point-of-view chapters for Jessica, Amy Ong, Jason Pryce, and Eleanor Lavelle. The tie that holds them together is closely guarded until the unexpected conclusion.


Reading in a Hammock. Public Domain.

Janet Maslin. “Review: In John Grisham’s ‘The Whistler,’ a Serious Woman and Serious Crime.” NY Times. Oct. 26, 2016.

Ken Tucker. “In ‘Camino Island,’ John Grisham takes a vacation from Writing John Grisham Novels.” NY Times. June 12, 2017.

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.


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