Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane

A U.S. marshal investigates sinister goings on at an island mental hospital for the criminally insane.

Shutter Island

William Morrow, 2003, 325 pages

Summer, 1954. U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels has come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane. Along with his partner, Chuck Aule, he sets out to find an escaped patient, a murderess named Rachel Solando, as a hurricane bears down upon them.

But nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is what it seems. Is he there to find a missing patient? Or has he been sent to look into rumors of Ashecliffe's radical approach to psychiatry; an approach that may include drug experimentation, hideous surgical trials, and lethal countermoves in the shadow war against Soviet brainwashing ...Or is there another, more personal reason why he has come there?

As the investigation deepens, the questions only mount. The closer Teddy and Chuck get to the truth, the more elusive it becomes, and the more they begin to believe that they may never leave Shutter Island because someone is trying to drive them insane ...

This claustrophobic thriller about paranoia and conspiracies is set on an island mental hospital/prison in the 1950s.

Teddy Daniels is a U.S. marshal sent to investigate the escape of a female patient at Ashecliffe Hospital, where convicted felons of both sexes are kept. He arrives on the island with a newly-assigned partner just as a hurricane is approaching.

Pretty soon, the story starts fraying around the edges. The doctors, the warden, even the inmates, all seem to be in on some dark secret. The staff is strangely uncooperative in the search for the missing patient, and Teddy becomes more and more convinced that they are hiding something.

I think the plot lost much of its mystery when Teddy started having conversations with his dead wife and other apparitions. It turns out Teddy has secrets himself — among other things, he came to Ashecliffe because the man who killed his wife is housed there. As the story becomes more and more improbable, involving Nazi doctors, Soviet brainwashing, lobotomies and drug experiments, the twist at the end becomes increasingly obvious. But it was no less enjoyable to see it executed.

Dennis Lehane makes this claustrophobic book of paranoia-fuel work with the multitude of characters and the timely drama of a hurricane. The atmospheric description of the island and its hospital makes Shutter Island eerie and entertaining. While the ending probably won't be much of a surprise, it's a good yarn for any thriller fan.

Shutter Island (2010)

Shutter Island

The 2010 movie, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is an unusually faithful adaptation. Scorsese filmed most of the scenes and dialog from the novel, but the presentation is both artistic and spookier, at times edging into territory where the audience might expect it to become a horror movie. Not just because of being set in a psychiatric facility, it reminded me a great deal of the (inferior but still spooky) film Session 9. DiCaprio can act, and while this may not be his best performance, I found the film stands alone, and is quite possibly as good as the book.

Verdict: A psychological suspense novel and thriller, you know right away that bad things are going to happen on Shutter Island, and if the bad things revealed do not really come as a great surprise, the book is still effective at telling its story. I enjoyed it, and would read more by Lehane. 8/10.

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