Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

The "what the hell happened?" ending of Shutter Island is as thuddingly fantastic as the "what the heck was that?" ending of Bad Monkeys was terrible. This thrilling, terrifying book kept me on edge and confused (in a good way) from beginning to end.

Lehane, author of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, opens the book with a mystery and then plunges us back in time nearly forty years and begins again with a second mystery. Around eighty pages into this book, I was so hooked that I told Roommate: "This ought to be a series-- Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule are so well-drawn." He just gave me a look and said, "Wait."

Wait, indeed.

Primarily set on a island in Boston Harbor, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, Shutter Island takes place during a 1954 hurricane. Maybe. New partners, Daniels and Aule, US Marshalls, are called in to help find an escaped female inmate who has been hospitalized after murdering her four children. Maybe. Once on the island, trapped by the incoming storm, they're confronted by resistant faculty, the possibility of unethical practices, and a deeper, more personal mystery for Daniels. Sort of.

This cinematic novel is, appropriately enough, is in pre-production for a movie release in 2009. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the movie will reportedly star Leo DiCaprio as Teddy Daniels (Leo seems too young for the part, to me) and Mark Ruffalo as Chuck Aule. Michelle Williams, the mother of the late Heath Ledger's child Mathilda, is slated to star as Teddy's wife. Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson have also been cast. (The movie name has reportedly just been changed to Ashecliffe).

I haven't read any of Lehane's other novels, but they're heading for my bullpen right now. This past weekend, I was lucky enough to attend Lehane's keynote reading for Eckerd College's "Writers in Paradise" Workshop in St. Petersberg, Florida. He read a chapter from his upcoming historical fiction A Given Day about the 1919 Boston Police strike. Absolutely gripping stuff and he's a gifted, engaging reader. (And, I'm not too proud to say, easy on the ol' peepers.) This may be a book I buy in hardcover.

Shutter Island wins the prize for the best book I've read in the past few months. I've read a bunch of clunkers, I'm afraid. Yes, The Road may be the "best" book that I've read lately, but it left me feeling so thoroughly roughed-up that I can't classify it as a "good read." Important, yes. Good, not so much.

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