Here’s another one to put on your must-see/must-read list (sorry, Shelley P and Julien, for making your stack so tall!). When Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island first came out in 2003, I wrote the review below for mysteryinkonline.com. When I heard about Martin Scorsese directing a movie version with that cast (Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Max von Sydow, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, Emily Mortimer—insane!), I was like a kid who couldn’t sleep on Christmas Eve.
My 2003 review of the book (no spoilers):
A few years ago, Dennis Lehane decided to take a sabbatical from his Patrick Kenzie/Angie Gennaro series to write a different kind of thriller. Lehane has said he wanted to improve his prose instead of relying on his usual minimalist, dialogue-laden style. This change of direction led him to Mystic River, a languidly-paced, character-driven mystery that became a critical and commercial breakthrough for him (and an Oscar-winning Clint Eastwood movie). Now, with his follow-up, Shutter Island, Lehane continues his growth as a sophisticated and insightful writer.
Island takes place in 1954 and follows U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule as they investigate the mysterious disappearance of a mental patient from a maximum security institution for the most violent and insane offenders. This hospital is located on the eponymous island and shelters almost as many secrets as residents. After the marshals’ arrivals, the island is hit by a deadly hurricane which temporarily neutralizes the electric-powered security systems. Daniels and Aule are trapped with escaped criminals, ambiguous doctors possibly dabbling in illegal experiments and a mysterious “67th patient” whose identity no one seems to know. Daniels struggles to uncover the truth about the island’s nefarious activities while struggling with grief from the recent death of his wife (aptly named Dolores, meaning “pains” in Spanish). Daniels may also have a secret agenda for being on the island but the question becomes: Will he and Aule ever get off the island?
First with Mystic River and now with Island, Lehane proves he is definitely moving in the right direction. There are many passages in Island which beautifully demonstrate his insight into the human condition. He can illustrate emotions such as love and sorrow as tangible entities, living things which can lift you off your feet or stab you in the heart. And while his prose has certainly become more eloquent, he has not abandoned his gift for dialogue. The marshals have an easy banter between them and there are touches of humor courtesy of Aule, who functions as the good cop of the duo.
As good as Mystic River was, Shutter Island is even more accomplished, with a plot that’s more complex. Just when the reader thinks he knows where the story is headed, it turns down a surprising path. As many plot twists as Island contains, however, they’re not there just for shock value and nothing else. Each revelation is duly supported by earlier events, making the ending—and the book—a tense and satisfyingly plausible read.