AMID the chaos of a reported late-night mass shooting, with fire alarms squealing and campus security personnel preoccupied, Princeton University loses one of its most valuable assets: the original handwritten manuscripts of four of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous stories, spirited away from the Firestone Library’s supposedly impenetrable vault.
Although able to make their initial escape with the bounty intact, the perpetrators – a loose gang of five smooth but relatively inexperienced conmen aiming well beyond their competence level – quickly lose control of the situation.
As the group breaks apart, the manuscripts are sold, then sold again. Both the FBI and Princeton’s insurer are in pursuit, yet the trail falls cold.
Meanwhile, on Camino Island, a coastal holiday enclave in northern Florida, life crawls along comfortably for bookseller Bruce Cable, a middle-aged bohemian playboy whose penchant for female authors is legendary. Could Cable – a man with a passion for antique first editions – know more than he’s admitting about the priceless loot?
Elaine Shelby certainly thinks so. Insurance investigator Shelby is adamant Cable is harbouring the manuscripts and in an attempt to entrap the book trader devises a plan to send in an undercover operative.
Her choice is attractive young writer Mercer Mann, a novelist with one acclaimed title already to her credit. Mann’s teaching position has just evaporated, leaving her unexpectedly unemployed and deeply in debt. When Shelby promises a hefty six-figure payment for six months’ work, she is won over.
Mann has the perfect cover: as a child she spent summers on the island with her grandmother, a prominent community member, so her reappearance on Camino is unlikely to spook a guilty Cable into disposing of any illicit items before the authorities can strike.
Yet, there remains no hard evidence of the Fitzgerald papers’ whereabouts. Are Shelby and Mann pursuing a dead end?