Reviewed by Rod McLary
A common trope in thrillers and horror stories is the characters embroiled in a situation beyond their imagining and beyond their initial ability to protect themselves. One need only consider Deliverance by James Dickey where four city men on a canoe trip in the Georgian wilderness are set upon by two armed locals. The success of the book and the subsequent film brought the phrase ‘Deliverance country’ into vogue – meaning an environment where the locals are threatening and dangerous.
In his Acknowledgements , Adrian McKinty refers to his own ‘Deliverance moment’ which occurred when he was driving on an isolated island in Australia. This ‘moment’ was the inspiration for his latest book The Island.
The island of the title is the fictitious Dutch Island located just 15 kilometres off the coast from Melbourne – so close to civilization and yet so far as the reader will soon discover as the story progresses.
Tom – an American doctor in Melbourne as the keynote speaker at a medical conference – is taking a brief holiday with his family – his second wife Heather and his children Lauren and Owen. Under emotional pressure from his children to find some koalas, Tom persuades [with the assistance of a substantial cash payment] an inhabitant of the island to transport them over by ferry. Bad mistake as they soon find out. Overhearing the negotiation between Tom and the ferry driver, an older Dutch couple Hans and Erika attach themselves to the family. The island is inhabited by a family, headed by Ma a formidable character to say the least, who is very much opposed to anyone visiting the island. It is said of Ma that she ‘changed the gravity well of the room’ .
Ignoring a warning by a barely tolerated inhabitant who is not part of the family, Tom and the others insist on searching the island for the koalas in their hire car. What happens to them instead is a car crash the consequences of which are terrible and compounded by their initial response being a pretence that the accident did not happen. However, it is soon discovered and its discovery launches a series of events which on occasion strains the story’s credibility. Up to this point, the reader may believe that, like the character in Henrik Ibsen’s play Hedda Gabler, ‘people don’t do such things’; but they do!
In the early part of the novel, the island’s inhabitants are determined to wreak vengeance on the hapless family and elements of horror are introduced. The fate of the older Hans is particularly gruesome and the inhabitants take some sadistic delight in ensuring that Tom and Heather are well aware of what will befall them and the children once they are caught. When Tom appears to have been killed, Heather and the children take flight.
The subsequent descriptions of their resourcefulness in evading capture on an island only three kilometres by seven kilometres is perhaps the strongest section of the novel. It is really heart-in-the-mouth reading. An interesting sub-plot is the personal development of twelve-year-old Owen who is purported to have ADHD but in the absence of his medication gradually grows in confidence and assertion. It is Owen who discovers a hiding place which buys them considerable time. It is also Owen who towards the end of the novel discloses something about his father Tom which turns the narrative arc on its head.
The author tends to rely a little too much on the characters possessing skills which help them in their escape. For example, Heather is the daughter of two ex-soldiers so she knew how to accurately fire a rifle; Owen because of his ADHD remembers everything he has read so knew where a causeway to the mainland could be found; Erika was a runner and thus could outpace anyone else on the island. But, there is a momentum to the story which will hold the reader until its conclusion.
It is an engaging story and it is always enjoyable to discover characters who can rise to the occasion and find inner resources which were previously untapped. The best example of this in The Island is Owen.
While not quite to the standard of his previous novel The Chain [also reviewed in these pages], this book is worth the reading.
by Adrian McKinty
ISBN 978 073364 601 0