Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane – Book Review

Shutter Island, 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 over 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 they are reluctant to do so, both Teddy and Chuck surrender their weapons before they entering the gates of the asylum (pursuant to a special government 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, showing 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 much of an investigation, and wondering if the doctors have drawn them into the midst of a sinister conspiracy decides to end their inquiries and return to the mainland.  But when 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 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, and 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 had seen Mystic River, this was my first time experiencing the author’s skillful rendering of suspense, character and use of the written word to set 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!

You may also like


  1. I didn’t like it that much. I’m not a fan of gimmicks in my books, and this used a big one.
    .-= King Rat´s last blog ..Little (Grrl) Lost / Charles de Lint =-.

    1. I struggled with that and ultimately I was okay with it because I though the characters and the story were well-drawn and I felt like I was getting enough that let me know that something big was wrong and I had some guesses as to what. I might have been madder if I had read it as opposed to listening, but I still enjoyed his story.

      I struggle with whether to mention the gimmicky aspect but I decided not too. For me that was a major spoiler and I felt like people needed to read/listen and decided for themselves rather than me alerting them to it and them looking for it around every corner.

      I thought Fight Club was a big gimmick and I hated it, but I also saw the movie, so I have to admit that I am curious as to how the book handled it.

    1. I had some idea that it was coming. At a certain point I was running the scenarios for what could happen someone is visiting/investigating a mental hospital. I expected something and like you said, I wasn’t surprised. I still enjoyed and sympathized with the characters and I was rooting for the Teddy/Chuck friendship. The suspense really got to me when I was trying to figure out if they could trust one another.

      This was my first Lehane too. I would like to try reading THe Given Day next. I’m curious as to what other ones you tried reading.

      1. I liked Shutter Island too. Call me dense or whatever, but I didn’t see the gimmick coming at all. And I didn’t care too much for the ending either.

        I read “The Given Day”. It’s not bad, it’s a completely different genre for him, I think. And it’s a pretty ambitious novel.

        You can read my review of it here:
        .-= Nishita´s last blog ..Finding Neverland – A Movie Review =-.

  2. I’ve not read anything by LeHane, but I have The Given Day on my iPod that I will eventually listen to. Of course the upcoming movie has got everyone all in knots, with the DiCaprio and Scorsese team at it again. I’m off to see if the library carries this on audio. It is totally the type of book I need right now!
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..Rebecca Read Along – Week 2 Discussion =-.

    1. I really want to read the given day now. I liked the way Lehane handled the characters and his writing. I am so curious to see how Marty and Leo take this one one. If they don’t get it right, it’ll be really bad. There’s kind of no middle ground with this one.

  3. It’s a shame that I haven’t read anything by Lehane yet because I have heard many good thing about his books (at least his thrillers). Anyway, this is certainly a book I would listen to since I am always on the lookout for not so much great books as great narrators. You are right, if the narration is bad it doesn’t matter anymore how awesome the book might be.
    .-= lilly´s last blog ..24-Hour Read-A-Thon is coming. =-.

    1. I think with this book it was definitely a combo in a compelling story and narrator. The I would say the narrator was great, but he definitely wasn’t just dull and dry and he changed up his voice and got into acting different characters.

  4. I have a great friend in Boston (where this author is also from) whose favorite author is Lehane. She reads all his books without fail and continually tries to get me to read his work. She says Shutter Island is her faorite and his best. I’m just not a fan of mysteries for the most part so I’ve not yet been compelled to pick anything up. I will say I’ve enjoyed the movies that have been made from his work (Mystic River and I believe Gone Baby Gone is based off one of his novels as well) but still not picked up a book of his. I’m glad you enjoyed it, gimmicks aside.
    .-= Michelle´s last blog ..Slumber Party Read-a-Thon Style =-.

  5. I read Mystic River when it first came out — loved it so much, I pushed it on everyone! Mr. BFR loved it to. The movie was amazing too, but the book was incredible. I’ve been meaning to read more Lehane ever since. I haven’t tried listening to him, but with the right narrator, I bet the experience would be terrific.
    .-= Beth F´s last blog ..Thursday Tea: An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon =-.

  6. Hmmm…when I was a teenager, I was a vegetarian, and worked in a sandwich deli, where I had to make meat sandwiches. Also, I hated my boss.
    .-= J.T. Oldfield´s last blog ..Time for Awards! =-.

  7. My first job ever at 15 was working with mentally challenged youth in a center on our town. I would be taking these kids (at that time around my age and probably up to 21) outside on walks, playing teams sports, etc…. During my orientation the lady training me was attacked by one of the kids and they were taken away in a straight jacket. Weeks later I was gathering the kids together and I was chased and locked myself in a bathroom to keep myself safe…. they did not find me for almost an hour…..

    uhhhh……. I only worked the job for the summer and never went back.. 🙂

    (Loved Shutter Island by the way – read it years ago!)

    1. After having seen the movie Shutter Island, my interest for the book waned. The ending’s gimmick requires the reader and audience to made to believe that we are naive and therefore must accept this one particular ending. I propose that the author could have given us an opportunity for us to decide ourselves. Why not believe that all we saw in this story was true and that Teddy was actually who he was portrayed to be and that the doctors and others were the real “bad” guys? Afterall throughout this story we followed Teddy believing all that occurred was real, why could it not be so?