Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

Son of a fisherman, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels has never been that comfortable on the water, yet on the water is where he finds himself as he crosses by ferry to Shutter Island with his new partner Chuck Aule. There, the two will investigate the disappearance of Rachel Salando, a mental patient/prisoner who was remanded to Ashcliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane after murdering her children. Even though both are reluctant to do so, Teddy and Chuck surrender their weapons before entering the gates of the asylum (pursuant to a special government directive which pertains directly to Shutter Island).

Once tucked away into the asylum, Teddy and Chuck are immediately uncomfortable within its walls. A patient has disappeared from a room where it would be a virtual impossibility to escape, the guards are reluctant to speak with them, and the doctors are cagey, condescending and sometimes hostile. All show a marked reluctance to facilitate their search for the missing patient.  Under the circumstances, Teddy doesn’t think that they will be able to conduct their  investigation. He wonders if the doctors have drawn them into the midst of a sinister conspiracy and decides to end their inquiries and return to the mainland. But before he and chuck can leave a storm descends upon Shutter Island. Teddy and Chuck are cut off from communication with the outside world and find themselves in a precarious position on the dangerous island. They not only mistrust those around them, but each has reason not to trust the other.

I listened to this as on audio book, which for the record I count as “reading”, being distinctly aware that the narrator can often make or break a book. A dull and dry narrator can be the kiss of death for what would normally be a good book and vice-versa.  As I listened to Shutter Island I knew that it would be one of those books that would be just as good if I were reading it myself.

It’s also one of those books about which not much can be said without giving away crucial elements to the plot. Suffice it to say that Teddy Daniels a is totally absorbing, complex and interesting character. I was intrigued by his relationship with his father and his experiences with the war. They seemed to be key contributors to the marital problems he experienced with his beloved wife Dolores. He is attempting to learn from past painful experiences and his efforts to stay on the straight and narrow path are the reasons that he is so committed to his job and so troubled by his handicapped investigation on Shutter Island.

For reasons that I can’t explain, I really liked Chuck Aule. Maybe because he will be portrayed by Mark Ruffalo in the movie. I was on pins and needles to see if both Teddy and Chuck would be able to make if off the island, and if their relationship would be intact if and when they did. The writing was both smart yet also conversational and easy to follow, and Dennis Lehane is excellent in building tension and creepiness throughout the story. This was definitely very suspenseful and I found myself listening for long periods of time because I always wanted to see what was going to happen next. Though I have seen Mystic River, this was my first time experiencing the author’s skillful word on the page. His rendering of suspense, character, and use of the written word beautifully sets a foreboding tone. I am definitely looking forward to reading more of his work after reading Shutter Island. And I am really looking forward to seeing what was done with the movie, which was pushed back from this fall to next February.  Boo.

I’m curious now- to what lengths will you go to hang onto a job? Teddy has serious issues with the water and gets stranded on an island.  I can tell that it wasn’t the most comfortable thing for him.  Fortunately I haven’t had to deal with any great fear or extreme discomfort in any position I have held.  The most uncomfortable I have ever been was the summer that I worked at the movie theater.  I was a box office cashier and had to stand all day long.  I got used to it, but boy was that first week rough!

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