Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

Valerie MacEwan

It's a jack-in-the-box -- remember to back out of the way when you turn the literary handle.

Shutter Island

Publisher: William Morrow
Length: 352
Price: $25.95 (US)
Author: Dennis Lehane
US publication date: 2003-04
"I see nobody on the road." said Alice.
"I only wish I had such eyes," the King remarked in a fretful tone. "To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance too! Why, it's as much as I can do to see real people, by this light!"
—Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Dennis Lehane, bestselling author of The Kenzie / Gennaro mystery series, and the highly acclaimed, much praised Mystic River (soon to be released as a motion picture), comes right back into the suspense forefront with his latest -- Shutter Island -- a wham bang thriller.

The terms eagerly awaited and bestselling author often make reviewers roll their eyes with dread. Another Nicholas Sparks? Is Grisham ever going to repeat his stellar performance and write like he did in A Time to Kill? Or, the penultimate fear, will the editor assign a Danielle Steele book for review? The truth is, writing and editing for PopMatters is different. PopMatters book reviews (in theory, but reality sometimes differs) are supposed to be an analysis of popular culture, its effects on the writing, the author, the sales of the book. While trying to make a stab at cultural comparisons and dictates, we also insert our personal preferences. With this in mind, I was fearful of another "sure-fire, bestseller blockbuster" when I received the galley proof of Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island from the ever-amazing Julia at HarperCollins. Seems like once they make it to the big top and out of the sideshows, authors are more concerned with slamming out moneymakers rather than center ring quality fiction.

I really wanted Lehane to keep up the pace he began with Mystic River and his award-winning Kenzie/Gennaro Series. Rooting for his success, I hoped he wouldn't let me down.

When discussing Lehane, one of the first things to note is his ability to take all the characters and put them, in the book's conclusion, into a nice, neat, tightly packaged box. The second thing is, it's not a cigar box, it's a jack-in-the-box. Remember to back out of the way when you turn the literary handle. He did it in Mystic River and he's done it again in Shudder Island. Let me say it here -- the quality of Lehane's writing stays consistent thus far. He's fast becoming the one of the new grand masters of the pop suspense writing craft. Lehane and Dan Brown [The Da Vinci Code] are tough acts for any suspense/thriller writer to follow.

The plot will keep you reading late into the night; the ending's a big ass surprise; and the premise is plausible; and Lehane's command of the English word, his twist of a phrase, is most commendable.

Police dramas, crime stories, "who done its" -- all are ever popular and time doesn't seem to change their status. From Palladin to The Rockford Files to CSI on TV, in books and movies, people do love a mystery. And they crave suspense. Reasons vary. Dull personal lives that need to be punched up? Or maybe we seek out the drama because our own lives are so confusing. The order, the denouement of a mystery/suspense novel -- the explanations -- we need that. Or it could be that mystery and suspense stories offer the same rush completing a crossword puzzle or the daily cryptoquote can.

Romantic entanglements are staples, part of the plot in most thrillers. Whether referring to love lost (as in Shutter Island), or to possible love-just-around-the-corner via a co-heroine/hero (The Da Vinci Code, Utopia and others) the question of romance provides more suspense. Will they "hook up" in the end? Will they walk away? Will they be murdered? Romance provides another vehicle to draw the reader into the next volume, because often the heroes/heroines return in subsequent books, or, if they're killed off, the prospect of new love for the protagonists sucks the reader in.

Like Dan Brown, Dennis Lehane "operates squarely in the territory of the pop bestseller". [Salon] Lehane believes actions have consequences, and it's those consequences that create suspense -- the "thrill" in thriller. He writes of the psychological effects of war on one man's life. The action of killing, the consequence of killing . . . a most timely subject in these troubled times. Lehane's protagonist is World War II veteran Teddy Daniels.Shutter Island's plot centers around psychiatric treatment in the 1950s. As we are now firmly entrenched in the "chemical age" of the psychiatric profession, and have moved beyond those pre-Prozac-Zoloft-unHalcyon days of shock treatments and radical experiments (such as the use of neuroleptics on schizophrenics) designed to modify behavior, Lehane's book is a reminder of what used to be the norm. (Or is it? Remember, it's a suspense novel).

The ending will surprise you and the suspense will keep you reading until you get there. The setting, while it's a mental institution in the 1950s, is timely even today. The characters are compelling. Lehane's got a hit. Dare I say "bestseller" and not grit my teeth? Yes. And I want Nicholas Cage or Bruce Willis to star as Teddy Daniels. Pop fiction deserves pop stars.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.