Click here to read Phillip Tomasso III's review of Shutter Island.
With the same compelling narrative style and sharp characterizations that made Mystic River such a splendid read, Dennis Lehane delivers another story that stretches the boundaries of the mystery genre but stays close enough to satisfy.
The year is 1954, and U. S. Marshal Teddy Daniels travels to Shutter Island, home of Ashcroft Hospital for the Criminally Insane, to investigate the disappearance of patient Rachel Solando. The mystery he encounters, however, is as much about this place, and him, as it is about the missing woman.
Teddy is still reeling in grief over the death of his wife, Delores: “Teddy wondered, and not for the first time, not by a long shot, if this was the day that missing her would finally be too much for him. If he could turn back the years to that morning of the fire and replace her body with his own, he would. That was a given. That has always been a given. But as the years passed, he missed her more, not less, and his need for her became a cut that would not scar over, would not stop leaking.”
With pain that deep, it would seem that perhaps Teddy has come to Shutter Island to kill the man who set the fire that consumed his apartment and his wife, but he has as much difficulty finding Laeddis as he did in locating Rachel. In fact, it seems like the head doctor and the administrator are working against him, which leads Teddy and his partner, Chuck, to wonder what is being covered up.
This is a dark and brooding tale, with just enough bright patches of humor to provide a welcome reprieve, and a hurricane presents a perfect backdrop. The sea and wind are as turbulent and relentless as Teddy’s emotions. Relief comes only in short periods of calm before the plot is ratcheted up another notch.
In classic Lehane style, the descriptions are so vivid one can feel the spray of the sea, hear the shrieks of the patients, feel the intensity of Teddy’s migraine pain, and smell the musky odor that evokes vivid memories of Delores. It is the kind of writing that begs the reader to take time to savor phrases and words and the images those words evoke.
Some readers might be disappointed in the ending, which is hard to explain without giving it away, and a bit more of a classic dénouement might have been more satisfying. But then, Lehane doesn’t promise the traditional "happy ending" for his tales because they are more like life than fiction, and life doesn’t always come to a satisfying conclusion.