"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

I have a dilemma: How to review this book without giving away any of its surprises. I can start with Lehane's style. His skill with prose is fully evident here, from evocative descriptions to complex characterizations. I thought Mystic River was as good as it gets, but Shutter Island feels more assured, if possible, as if he was showing off in the former book and is more comfortable with the latter.

Shutter Island, set in the mid-1950s, revolves around a psychiatric institution for the criminally insane, located on a rugged island in New England. A hurricane is roaring up the coast toward the island and one of the patients/inmates--Rachel Solando, incarcerated for killing her children--has gone missing. Enter Teddy Daniels, a US Marshall and the protagonist, and his new partner Chuck Aule. Assigned to find the missing woman, they encounter subtle stonewalling that leads Teddy to suspect all is not what it seems.

Teddy, too, is not what he seems, and as he slowly reveals to Chuck, he has his own reasons for taking the assignment. There's another inmate at the asylum, someone Teddy wants very much to kill: the man responsible for Teddy's wife's death.

But this is no mere mystery/suspense story. This is a psychological tale that plays with the reader's assumptions as much as it plays with Teddy's. I was reminded of Arturo Perez-Riverte's The Club Dumas and Guy Burt's The Hole and Sophie, books that also weren't quite what they seemed. But Shutter Island stands on its own, partly due to Teddy and partly due to Lehane's accomplished storytelling.

For readers expecting another Mystic River or something akin to Lehane's Patrick and Angie mystery series, pass this one by. But for people looking for an intriguing, well written suspense story, I recommend this heartily.