Shutter Island – book review

About the book

Author : Dennis Lehane

Genre : Gothic, Psychological Horror, Crime

Pages : 380

Publication date : April 15, 2003

Story plot

In 1954, widower U.S. Marshal Edward “Teddy” Daniels and his new partner, Chuck Aule, go on a ferry boat to Shutter Island, the home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane, to investigate the disappearance of a patient, Rachel Solando (who was incarcerated for drowning her three children). Despite being kept in a locked cell under constant supervision, she has escaped the hospital and the desolate island.

In Rachel’s room, Teddy and Chuck discover a code that Teddy breaks. He tells Chuck that he believes the code points to a 67th patient, when records show only 66. Teddy also reveals that he wants to avenge the death of his wife Dolores, who was murdered two years prior by a man called Andrew Laeddis, whom he believes is an inmate in Ashecliffe Hospital. The novel is interspersed with graphic descriptions of World War II and Dachau, which Teddy helped to liberate. After Hurricane Carol hits the island, Teddy and Chuck investigate Ward C, where Teddy believes government experiments with psychotropic drugs are being conducted. While separated from Chuck for a short while in Ward C, Teddy meets a patient called George Noyce, who tells him that everything is an elaborate game designed for him, and that Chuck is not to be trusted.

As Teddy and Chuck return to the main hospital area, they are separated. Teddy discovers a woman (in a sea cave he tried to take refuge in) who says she is the real Rachel Solando. She tells him she was actually a psychiatrist at Ashecliffe, and when she discovered the illegal experiments being run by them, she was incarcerated as a patient. She escaped and has been hiding in different places on the island. She warns him about the other residents of the island, telling him to take care with the food, medication and cigarettes, which have been laced with psychotropic drugs. When Teddy returns to the hospital, he can’t find Chuck and is told he had no partner. He escapes and tries to rescue Chuck at the lighthouse, where he believes the experiments take place. He reaches the top of the lighthouse and finds only hospital administrator Dr. Cawley seated at a desk. Cawley tells Teddy that he himself is in fact Andrew Laeddis (an anagram of Edward Daniels) and that he has been a patient at Shutter Island for two years for murdering his wife, Dolores Chanal (an anagram of Rachel Solando), after she murdered their three children.

Andrew/Teddy refuses to believe this and takes extreme measures to disprove it, grabbing what he thinks is his gun and tries to shoot Dr. Cawley; but the weapon is a toy water pistol. Chuck then enters, revealing that he is actually Andrew’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lester Sheehan. He is told that Dr. Cawley and Chuck/Sheehan have devised this treatment to allow him to live out his elaborate fantasy, in order to confront the truth, or else undergo a radical lobotomy treatment. Teddy/Andrew accepts that he killed his wife and his service as a US Marshal was a long time ago.

The ending of the novel has Teddy receive a lobotomy in order to avoid living with the knowledge that his wife murdered their children and he is her murderer.


Have you seen the movie Shutter Island starring Leonardo DiCaprio? If you haven’t yet, read the Shutter Island book first. It was originally published in 2003 by Dennis Lehane, and made into a movie not long ago, 2010 actually. I personally haven’t seen the movie either, but after reading the book I’ve decided I HAVE to see the movie adaptation.

Why was the book so good? Many people will already be familiar with Lehane’s work, he’s a famous thriller/crime novelist, so to start off the book is really well written. Not only that, but the plot is fantastic, with lots of twists that you never see coming, which always makes great for a screenplay as well. The copy of the book that I read was a lent to me by a colleague of mine, so it was an older, well-loved paperback from a while back; a nice change from the brand new books I typically get! Anyway, as mass market paperbacks typically do, it had quotes and blurbs from press reviews all over the cover, and a few of them described the book as ‘cinematic’, meaning the descriptions of the scenery and characters are so vivid that readers can easily imagine these scenes in their mind. Of course these were just predictions at the time, but the book was good enough for Martin Scorsese to take notice, as he was the eventual director of the film.

For those of you who like ‘spooky’ summer time reads, this book is definitely for you, so make some time for some ‘oldies but goodies’ on your shelf, and then clear away an afternoon to watch the movie when you’re done the book.