Dennis Lehane

Bantam Press £12-99 Rel: May 2003

Reviewed by Ali Karim

Like the hurricane that batters the island that gives this book its name, I feel battered and bruised by the complexity and ambition of this deeply disturbing novel. It starts simply enough with two US Marshals arriving on Shutter Island, an institution for the criminally insane off the coast of Boston. They have been assigned to find a missing inmate – a mysterious woman who murdered her children and was incarcerated for life at the facility. During their surreal investigation, it becomes difficult to distinguish the staff from the inmates. Rumours of mind control experiments with drugs as well as surgery abound, while all around a hurricane is gathering to smash at the facility. The journey that the two Marshals endure takes them right to the core of Shutter Island. They have to face up to the latent dark truths that lie waiting for them, hidden at the very top of the lighthouse which acts as a sentinel watching over the proceedings like an all-seeing eye.

Shutter Island is my best read this year. This is all the more staggering in a year that has given us pure excellence from the crime/mystery genre. It is just amazing how Lehane snaps back the boundaries by combining the mystery genre with the sinister and paranoid world of Philip K Dick, and the whole question of reality, madness and evil. It is also deeply moving and written in a hallucinogenic hypnotic style. The structure of the novel is at times scary, at times worrying, and other times close to bringing you to tears, such is the beauty of his words. It is difficult to summarise the plot any further due to the problem of giving away the end.

The astute will listen to the crazy whispers that nibble at your earlobe throughout the book, but then the ending rips off your ear a la Mike Tyson. A robust and intricately structured story, full of insight and compassion about the dark side of the human dream, and a book that will really divide Lehane fans like a cleaver. Highly recommended for those who like challenge.