REVIEW: Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane is a psychological thriller that was published way back in 2003. I bought it when it first came out but remembered that I  just couldn’t get into it. I challenged myself to finish reading it this year and mission completed.

I was under the misguided impression that Lehane couldn’t possibly write anything of interest for me outside of his “Patrick/Angie books. Well, I was wrong. Shutter Island is a page-turner. A novel that plumbs the depths of the human psyche.  A meaty psychological thriller that plays with the mind with a climatic ending that was both shocking and quite disturbing. Yep, my kind of novel.

The course of events in this story takes place in the early 1950’s. Two Federal agents, Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule are on the ferry heading towards Ashecliffe, a prison slash medical facility for the criminally insane located on Shutter Island.  Their assignment is to locate a missing patient who is nowhere to be found on an island that is completely surrounded by water and rock. That missing patient is Rachel Solando, a war widow with a history of violence, who drowned her three children two years ago and who has vanished from her locked room without a trace.

The investigation into Rachel’s disappearance lasts four days and then the story is decidedly over. Throughout the course of the investigation the author has set the reader up and I will not elaborate on how he did this. The mood and atmosphere of the story were downright creepy and deliciously sinister. The thought of “mad scientists” practicing their radical therapies on unsuspecting patients is a bit scary. Second, there’s a major hurricane heading towards the island. Teddy and Chuck find themselves stuck on the island with no way to communicate off the island while conducting their investigation. It is then that Lehane amps up the suspense and I couldn’t stop reading.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a really good psychological thriller that plays with your head. It was such a quick read, too, that I had to go back to reread the story again, armed with the insight I gained from the ending. Lehane hit this one out of the ball park for me. Shutter Island was such a gripping and startling read that I just couldn’t put it down. It’s one of those novels that when you reach the end you have to discuss it with somebody. Thankfully, my mother had already read this book albeit a long time ago but she remembered the ending!

Shutter Island is a story that one doesn’t soon forget after the last page is turned. The novel really doesn’t get going until after the second or third chapter. The prologue effectively projects a sinister feeling from the start by raising an awareness that something bad has happened to one of these characters.  You just don’t know who or what or how. Lehane, forgive me. How could I have ever doubted you? My grade, A. Would I reread this book again? You bet I would. This is a book that sparks discussion with other readers once it’s finished. If you haven’t read it yet – you should. You won’t be disappointed and if you are, I really don’t want to hear about it.

This book is still available in paperback and hardcover, audio CD, cassettes and ebook, too.

[tags]Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island, Mystery Review[/tags]


About Keishon

Voracious reader of just about everything.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Grade A Reviews, Mystery and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to REVIEW: Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

  1. jenreads says:

    Yeah, this is a good one. Alas, it’s also his last novel. Have you read Mystic River? That’s a good one too. The guy can write no matter what he choose to write about. I will admit that I haven’t read his story collection yet though.

  2. Avid Reader says:

    I haven’t read Mystic River but I will when I can get ahold of it. I have read his short story collection. It’s not his best work so you’re not missing anything.

  3. I thought Shutter Island was awesome but, like you, I had some trouble getting into it. I ended getting it on unabridged audio tape and—whether it was my mood or the reader’s voice—I got sucked in. The ending just blew me away.

  4. Kaitlin says:

    Hi! I came across your blog via Romancing the Blog.

    I find it strange that not very many people have read this book. Both my mom & I read it and to this day I recommend it to people who like the great mind trip. 🙂

    I’ll be reading your blog. I like it! 🙂

  5. vanessa jaye says:

    I’ll have to check this out! Thanks for the warning about the first couple of chapters, knowing me I would have given up.

  6. Avid Reader says:

    Ms. Stacey: Lehane tricked readers pretty good with this one.
    Vanessa: I would love to know your thoughts on this one.
    Kaitlin: Welcome! Shutter Island seems to not be a favorite with mystery fans. I so enjoyed it that I reread certain parts of it, bookmarked favorite scenes, talked about it with my sister. You need to share some of your favorite authors!

    Next up, well after a couple of books, I’ll be reading Mystic River.

  7. Kaitlin says:

    Hmmm…favorite authors. I’m sure I could discuss that for HOURS, but I’ll give you a basic list. 🙂

    Nora Roberts/JD Robb
    Rachel Caine (especially her Weather Warden series! Totally Rocks!)
    Kim Harrison
    Colleen Gleason
    Nalini Singh
    Marjorie M. Liu
    Mercedes Lackey
    Anne McCaffrey
    Lisa Kleypas
    Years by LaVyrle Spencer is one of my all-time favorite books.
    The Bodyguard series by Cindy Gerard is really good too

    I have tons more. 😀

  8. Pingback: Lehane’s Historic Epic, “The Given Day” Will Be Brought To the Big Screen |

  9. I have read Shutter Island and I think it is a fantastic book…. I have read the ending over and over and over and I just don’t get it… Could somebody please explain.

    Please respond.

  10. Avid Reader says:

    @harriet stellini: What is it you don’t understand?

  11. Jill says:

    Okay..I just read Shutter Island after seeing the movie trailer. It is indeed a great book! As much as I’d like to believe that Teddy is Teddy and Ashecliffe drove him to insanity, that’s just not the case. Teddy Daniels is the alter-ego of Andrew Laeddis (Teddy.) The Andrew Laeddis that is explained to us is a fabrication Teddy/Andrew created to cope with the truth. Look at all the evidence suggesting he is Andrew. All the dreams about Dolores with a hole in her stomach.. about her being all wet. Teddy “fantasy” was that Dolores burned up in a fire. Why the hole in the stomach and wetness? I’ll tell you why.. because Dolores drowned their children in the lake (hence the wetness in all his dreams) and Andrew shot her in the stomach (hence the hole in her stomach) to basically free her from herself. And I guess kind of because he was angry. Think about him reiterating their last encounter (before she drowned their children, even though we didn’t know about that part yet..) Wasn’t she acting a little loopy that morning in the shower? She got out of the shower and was talking about her “private” and said something like “you can like it, kiss it, watch babies come out of it…” In Andrews fantasy, he and Dolores didn’t have children… that whole conversation that morning and especially that part of it struck me odd right there. As for Sheehan’s little insert in 1993.. He did speak of the way Teddy pictured the island in 1954. Andrew arrived on the island in 1952. However, the event that was staged to “fix” Andrew and bring him to reality was in 1954. He was put on a ferry with Chuck/Sheehan to begin this little shananigan. In that mind state, he honestly didn’t believe he’d been a patient on that island for the previous two years. I think that Dr. Cawley and Sheehan really cared for Andrew/Teddy.. and that sort of explains his insert in the beginning. Him referring to Rachel Solando and Andrew Laeddis as the twin terrors was again referring to the four days they spent trying to get Andrew back to reality.. and Andrews belief his fantasy about crazy Solando and Laeddis was true probably did cause some havoc for those who knew the truth. Remember, the creepy warden says to him “he (referring to Cawley, I believe) thinks what you’re doing is harmless. I disagree.) I think the warden was referring to the “play” that was going on. Isn’t it sort of proof enough that the letters of Teddy’s name matched Andrew’s and the letters of Rachel’s-Dolores’s? Isn’t it proof enough that the children “Teddy” had dreamed about were the same children in the pictures of the crime scene? Is it not proof enough that Andrew created these fake names based off the childrens names? Teddy, Daniel, and Rachel? Is it not proof enough that he remembered everything in the dream he had after speaking with Cawley and Sheehan in the lighthouse.. details that weren’t even drilled into him during their conversation in the lighthouse. And woke up, and admitted everything? He was folks, whether you like it or not, Andrew Laeddis. He was never a bad guy in my opinion. He loved his wife, didn’t want to believe she was sick. When she killed their children, he mostly shot her to save her from her own insanity. He said, I believe, when he briefly came to reality, that if he could have gave his mind to save hers, he would have. I don’t know if Lehane meant it this way, but I’d say Andrew did indeed give his mind to save Dolores’s. Now.. I’ll admit, I was a bit confused about the woman in the cave, and Trey Washington’s help. I’ve decided that I do believe the woman in the cave was a figment of his imagination. I played with the theory of it being staged as part of the “play.” But I thought about it a little more.. no one ever meant for Teddy to go down that cliff. Sheehan/Chuck even said that he meant for Teddy to find Laeddis’s paper where Teddy left Chuck sitting. It blowing over the cliff was an accident and Sheehan even went down after it but Teddy beat him. So if Teddy was never meant to go down that cliff, he would have never seen the glow of the woman doctors fire.. so that was not staged… just conveniently fabricated I think. As for Trey, maybe that was staged? or maybe just a bit of Andrews imagination??Or maybe Trey, like Sheehan and Cawley I think, really like Andrew/Teddy and wanted to help him. I still don’t think he’s a bad guy.. Not too sure, but either way.. I think it’s a small enough thing not to dwell over and it sure doesn’t prove the theory that Teddy’s really Teddy and the hospital is trying to make him crazy. My most solid evidence is this.. the dreams about Dolores do not make sense until his dream about what really happened. Again with the hole in the belly, and being all wet. Everything else just helps out. This turned out to be a long opinion… hope it doesn’t confuse people further =)

  12. Avid Reader says:

    @Jill: I wouldn’t know where to start with that (laugh) but thanks for sharing your thoughts on the story. I was surprised by the ending but going back to read it, I did see some of the clues.

  13. chris mitchell says:

    Please explain the ending of shutter island was he andrew or teddy

  14. Sarah Glotzbach says:

    @chris mitchell: I want to know who he really was, it was soooo confusing. Does someone know the answer??

  15. Avid Reader says:

    @Sarah Glotzbach: @chris mitchell: did you all read Jill’s comment? I think she does a good job of explaining the ending. Also, the ending is not as easy for me to discuss because it’s been awhile since I’ve read the book. I’m hoping to do a round table discussion with some friends who did read this book and pick it apart. To not spoil it for other readers, I will not share my opinion on the the comment thread but you both are welcome to email me using the contact form in the navigation menu.

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