Upon sterling recommendations from fellow film blogger John Greco and fellow independent Philly-based novelist Christopher Tait, I decided to make the most of my time waiting for Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel, Shutter Island, to be released in theaters by…well, would you look at that…reading the novel. I was a big fan of previous film adaptations of Lehane’s books, Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, so I was eager to finally dive into the source material.
In 1950’s Boston, two U. S. Marshals, perpetually lovesick and seasick Teddy (to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and freshly transferred from Seattle Chuck (to be played by Mark Ruffalo) are ferried to a remote island off the coast to a hospital for the criminally insane in order to investigate the disappearance of a homicidal schizophrenic patient, Rachel Solando (to be played by Emily Mortimer). To reveal anything beyond this slim description of the set-up would be to reveal too much.
Shutter Island is a maddeningly thickening mystery where we soon learn the back-stories of our detectives, the doctors and the patients. Around the 80 page mark I had two solid theories for what might have happened and how the novel would conclude. It’s a tried and true whodunit/how’d-they-do-it tale where the pleasure of turning the pages is in seeing how your own theories stack up to what is eventually uncovered.
Lehane is a writer who loves to add layers upon layers to his descriptions of people and places and never met a metaphor he didn’t like…chains in a spaghetti pile…or soft music crawling around the room like spiders (p 76). It certainly maintains an effectively chilling atmosphere, though he can at times go overboard. The author, however, deserves a heap-load of credit for telling the bulk of his story through police procedural question-and-answer style dialogue. It’s here where his characters’ personalities (and secrets) are revealed to the reader, and where Lehane as a natural storyteller shines. It takes a special kind of writer to be able to pull off expository dialogue without revealing the cards, and Lehane maintains a killer poker face while holding a straight flush in this regard. There’s dark humor and grit to be found here, and these are the classic hallmarks of a great mystery writer.
NOTE TO READERS: I am about to talk about a big spoiler without actually revealing the big spoiler, so read with caution.
However, about half way through the novel it became painfully clear that one of my two theories on what the final plot twist would be was correct…and sadly it was the most glaringly obvious of plot twists for this type of psychological thriller. All of the far-fetched elements of the plot are easily explained away with this twist, though the act of explaining everything away after the big revelation becomes a far-fetched endeavor in and of itself. Though some of the details surrounding the ultimate twist still provided some shocks and jolts, the latter third of the novel falls apart, and for me, all suspense was sucked out as Lehane arrived at the inevitable conclusion.
My initial fear with reading Shutter Island was that it would take any element of surprise away from viewing the upcoming film. Unfortunately, the book took away its own element of surprise with its predictable “big twist”. That being said, Lehane still crafted a most entertaining read, and this type of material in the hands of a director like Scorsese and an actor like DiCaprio should be a blast to watch.
Stay tuned for Shutter Island Part Two: The Film coming to movie theaters and The Schleicher Spin in February 2010.
Written by David H. Schleicher