5 Points Book Review: Shutter Island

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

1. One-Sentence Sentence: In 1954, US Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule head to an isolated, creepy-as-hell mental institution secreted among Boston’s Harbor Islands to recapture an escaped patient (who also happens to be a murderer), but are unprepared for recalcitrant staff, mysterious happenings, unexplained disappearances and one hell of a hurricane.

2. Op-Ed: After seeing the preview for the new movie embedded in the Martin Scorsese retrospective at the Golden Globes (I was watching them ironically, honest), I noticed a wayward copy of Shutter Island cluttering up the shelf of the waiting area at my office. Knowing that I had a two-day business trip in my future, I happily “borrowed” it. There’s just something about mystery/thriller/crime novels that seems perfect for “stuck-on-the-tarmac-while-de-icing-the-plane”.

Needless to say, Island fit the bill for business travel. It’s a fast read, tightly paced, cleverly plotted and devilishly intricate without sacrificing characters, atmosphere or dialogue in the process. Color me impressed. It also served as my first taste of Lehane. Rest assured, dear reader, it won’t be my last.

3. Thumbs Up: Atmosphere! Rule #1 for suspense fiction is that it has to be suspenseful! Lehane hits it out of the park. The titular island is creepy, isolated, intimately tied to Marshal Teddy Daniels’ past and present and “more than it seems”.

Also, character! Teddy is damaged goods, that’s clear, but he is never beyond sympathy. He’s just a cop who’s there to do a job.

Dialogue! Right from the beginning, the banter between Teddy and Chuck is pitch-perfect and their two-normal-guys-confronting-really-abnormal-circumstances relationship plays out to the very end. The setting is bleak and claustrophobic without feeling overly manufactured.

On an even broader note, I very much enjoyed both the Boston setting (which is near and dear to my heart) and the amount of research into mid-century psychiatry (which isn’t, but is fascinating nonetheless).

4. Thumbs Down: Not too much, though slight bits  of the plot lose their believability when seen through the post-twist lens at the end (the prologue in particular). At the same time, certain elements that seem contrived and a-little-too-convenient are actually brilliantly explained, so there’s that.

*Spoiler Alert, maybe*

Maybe it’s more of a personal flaw than a critique of the book, but I really liked where things were going pre-twist. And even though the twist is more than satisfactory, the hinted-at world pre-twist was intriguingly dark and sinister.

5. Recommendation:By all means, read it before you see the movie!

-4 Stars-

5 Points Review Scale

1 Star: I would never burn a book, but this really tempted me
2 Stars: Read this book only if you have no other books and reading is the only thing that makes the voices go away
3 Stars: Lousy book with redeeming parts or Good book with obvious flaws
4 Stars: Buy it, read it, loan it out, forget who you loaned it to, buy it, read it, loan it out…
5 Stars: This will be on the syllabus in my upcoming seminar: “The Best Books You’ll Ever Read”

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