Every so often as you begin to read a book, something in the back of your mind starts to whisper, “I’ve been here before.” The whispering started for me at the beginning of chapter 2 of Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island and remained a nagging little voice for much of the book’s first half.
It’s 1954 and Deputy U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels has been dispatched, along with his new partner Chuck Aule, to Ashecliffe, a federal prison hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island. Their mission is to locate a missing murderess, Rachel Solando, who has apparently managed to escape from a locked and carefully guarded cell. She is homicidally violent and cannot be allowed to reach the mainland.
While most of the patients in Ashecliffe are dangerous, Rachel is off the chart. After landing on the dock, the marshals are disarmed (A mental hospital, remember?) and taken to see Dr. John Cawley, the hospital’s chief of staff. They are told that the entire island has been searched and Rachel is nowhere to be found. They are also told that, even if she tried to get to the mainland, she would never be able to make the 11-mile swim without drowning.
Besides, Cawley says, there’s a storm a comin’, a hurricane that will probably leave the island isolated for a day or making travel and communication with the Mainland virtually impossible (There’s that whispering voice again). We learn that there are demons everywhere on the island, none the least of which reside rather uncomfortably inside the head of our good friend Marshal Teddy Daniels.
A decorated WW II combat veteran, he is just getting over the death of his beloved wife, Dolores, who was killed in an arson fire. And guess what else? The crazed arsonist who killed her, Andrew Laeddis, is now a patient at (You guessed it!) Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island.
Teddy swears that he just wants to talk to Laeddis, certainly not harm him for killing his wife. Nobody, especially Dr. Cawley, is buying that story. So, to recap: we have two unarmed U.S. Marshals on an island soon to be struck by a hurricane with 100+ mile an hour winds. The marshals are looking for an insane killer who could only have escaped with help from someone on the inside and, coincidentally, another patient just happens to have killed the wife of one of the marshals.
To be honest, by this time I’ve already made a mental list of the soon-to-be- killed and while the whispering in my mind had stopped, the derisive laughter had begun. (Are you really going to keep reading this book?)
As a matter of fact, yes. I did continue reading the book and am quite pleased that I did. Lehane subtly tries to convince you that there is more to Shutter Island and Ashecliffe than meets the eye. He engagingly lures you into a plot so sinister and so complex that the pages almost turn themselves and, as a result, my whispering voice is forced to proffer an apology and find a quiet place to hide.
In the end, Shutter Island and Marshal Teddy Daniels both have to deal with their own nightmares. All is not as it seems on the island and if Teddy doesn’t soon discover the truth, the consequences for him could literally be a fate worse than death. Much like Mickey Spillane, Dennis Lehane never quite shows his hand until you reach the final page of Shutter Island.
Shutter Island the novel is available in bookstores and at Amazon.com. Shutter Island the movie is curently filming with Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley and Emily Mortimer under the direction of Martin Scorsese.