Book Review: Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

March 11, 2010 in Book Reviews by pacejmiller

Nate from theninthdragonking was right.  I should have read the book first before watching the movie.

But then again, had I read the book first, the movie probably wouldn’t have been as good.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote Mystic River) is a solid book, an intelligent, well-written thriller with slick dialogue and fascinating characters.  But it didn’t blow me away or anything.  Like I said, maybe watching the movie (which was remarkably similar) first had something to do with it.  After all, it does reveal the ending.

The premise is simple.  In 1954, Teddy Daniels, a US Marshal, is called to Ashcliffe hospital (for the criminally insane) on Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a patient.  But of course, Teddy is thrown into a wild, dangerous world where nothing is as it seems.  Will he come out of it with his health and sanity in tact?

The atmosphere is dark and suspenseful.  The plot is full of twists and turns.  The characters are memorable, especially Teddy’s new partner Chuck Aule, a funny, likable sidekick.  Lehane is a master manipulator who knows how to keep readers confused.  However, the thing I liked most about Shutter Island was the way Lehane handles the dialogue.  Each character’s voice is distinct and easily recognisable, with their own tone, style, and beat.  It’s certainly something I can learn from.

That said, there was too much dialogue.  At times it felt like that was all I was reading.  I think the story stagnated because of it. For a 369-page novel (my movie tie-in edition), I kind of expected a bit more to happen.

And really, when you think about it, the story requires a ridiculous amount of suspending disbelief.  I suppose credit should go to Lehane for making such a preposterous premise semi-believable.

Ultimately, a good read, but not as good as I expected.

3.5 stars out of 5

[PS: SPOILER ALERT – a lot is made about the book’s (and the film’s twist ending).  Yes, it’s not all that hard to figure out, but do reviewers have to keep reminding readers that a twist ending is coming?  Take for example the back cover, a review from the New York Times: “A deft, suspenseful thriller that unfolds with increasing urgency until it delivers a visceral shock in the final moments.”  Then, inside the front cover, from Washington Post Book World: “Its shocking outcome kept me awake”; from Denver Post: “And then there’s the ending.  You’re sure to talk about this one over lunch…”; from Raleigh News Observer: “leads us hypnotically to a climax that is both absolutely shocking and wholly plausible”; and the worst one of all, from Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Lehane throws in a beauty of a reversal toward the end, one as surprising as the revelation in the movie The Sixth Sense”.]