I’m not sure I want to say anything at all about Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane because someone made an offhand remark to me about it a couple of years ago, and that was enough to spoil the ending. The remark itself was really innocuous, intended to encourage me to read the book, but it was enough to set my mind a-ticking. Then, I saw the trailer for the upcoming movie version, and that trailer, without actually giving away the ending, provided just enough information to confirm my thinking. So mostly, this audiobook was a series of confirmations. With every clue, I was nodding my head, thinking “I know what that’s about,” and I was almost always right. So I’m hesitant to say much of anything because I suspect that by knowing what was going on, I missed out on one of the great pleasures of this book. But I will give you a basic idea of the premise—and strongly encourage you to avert your eyes if you see the movie trailer.
As the novel opens, U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck Aule are on a boat to Shutter Island, the site of a mental hospital for the criminally insane. A patient, Rachel Solando, has gone missing, and the hospital personnel are stymied. Patients are monitored 24/7, and there is simply no way she could have vanished so completely. On assessing the situation, Teddy agrees—and goes on to decide that it had to be an inside job. Before he’s able to get to the bottom of it, a hurricane comes and traps him and Chuck on the island in a facility filled with people they believe cannot be trusted. They are cut off and vulnerable.
This was my first Lehane novel, and I was impressed with the writing. Lehane has great skill at description and characterization, which is just what I want in a thriller writer. I can’t bring myself to care about the plot if there’s no sense of place or character, and Lehane delivers on that score. As far as the plotting goes, Lehane plays fair—everything you need to know to figure out what’s going on is provided, as long as you know what to look for. To me, the solution seemed obvious, but I’m not sure if that’s because it is obvious or because I happened to have a good hunch that turned out to be accurate. I think Lehane might have piled on a few too many clues, mostly because of one pair of huge coincidences that, on their own, make perfect sense, but, when combined, add up to way too much. (Highlight for vague spoiler: It has to do with the characters’ names, specifically Edward, Daniel, and Andrew Laeddis.)
Because of the unintentional spoiling, I’m having a hard time assessing this book. I have a feeling I would have loved it had I not known anything much about it. It’s dark and strange and disorienting—just my kind of thing. The audio version, narrated by Tom Stechschulte, is well done. And even knowing what was going on, I enjoyed seeing the plot unfold, but knowing made me much too aware of the author’s cleverness and less invested in the story. I wish I’d gone into it totally ignorant. If you have any inclination to read this book, go do it now before the movie becomes a regular topic of conversation so you can enjoy the full effect. (Or just go see the movie. With Scorsese at the helm, it’s bound to be worth seeing.)