First published back in 1991, Richard Laymon’s disturbing desolate-location-set thriller ‘Island’ came about midway through this prolific writer’s career.
Rupert Conway is the eighteen-year-old boyfriend of Connie Collins, a self-absorbed, rude and altogether stuck-up bitch. The two have joined Connie’s mother and her partner (Billie and Andrew Collins), their two daughters (Thelma and Kimberly) and their respective partners (Wesley and Keith). So all in all, Rupert is the only one who is not deemed as being ‘family’ in the gathering – we’ve all been there at one point or another. However, at the invitation of Wesley, they have all gone on a sailing holiday in the Bahamas. The novel begins on 1st April 1994 when their boat explodes whilst Wesley is supposedly aboard, leaving the others stranded on a desolate and isolated island.
The group stay to the beach area, lighting a fire and waiting for an inevitable rescue party to arrive. When night arrives, they camp out on the beach, taking it in turns to keep watch over the campsite. The next morning, Keith (who was supposed to wake Rupert when his watch finished) is nowhere to be seen. After the majority of the party go in search for Keith, Rupert discovers his body hanging from a tree. They are clearly not alone on the island after all!
Sure enough, then Andrew is the next castaway to be picked off by the unknown attacker. Suspicions are raised whether Wesley faked his death and is in fact behind the murders. And before long, after the cunningly plotted murder of Andrew, Wesley is clearly identified as the killer. They quickly realise that if every one of the family members that are currently stranded on the island were to be killed, Wesley would stand to inherit a small fortune. But there may well be an even more sinister reasoning behind it all than it first appears...
The novel is written in the form of a journal for our principal character and narrator Rupert Conway (although early on he does accidentally declare his surname to be Conroy). From the very outset, Laymon packs in the suspense with a shovel, until the tale is seemingly bursting with the edge-of-the-seat storyline. The early deaths are puzzling, as is Rupert’s casual attitude and straight-off acceptance of the frightening (and potentially life-threatening) dilemma. Rupert’s hormone-fuelled adolescent approach to everything is as comical as it is a charming reminder of those long-ago days of our very own pasts. Sex is always at the forefront of our narrator’s brain. Indeed, his repeated lustful descriptions of the various stunning women that he is stranded on the island with are so very truthful to a young lad of eighteen, that comical as the worship filled writing is, it holds a very ‘true to life’ air to it.
Laymon keeps the reader guessing, spelling out the possibilities of the killer’s identity that Rupert is mulling over. The culprit is no great surprise, but that in itself is what is so very surprising about it. A literary double-bluff if you will.
The pace quickly steps up a notch, with the immediate danger for each of the surviving members now very real. Laymon throws in a huge twist that sends the reader spinning with an absolute frustrated anger. This is nothing but a triumph for Laymon’s skills as a writer. The storyline remains utterly nail-biting from here until the finally conclusion. Numerous twists of fortune lay in wait throughout the tale, keeping together a tight and thoroughly imaginative storyline.
Laymon doesn’t hold back at all with the horrifying details, describing in vivid detail some of the stronger moments of the book, such as the discovery of a ‘Bill and Josh Harpe’ style of mutilation. One scene in particular where Rupert is laid out unconscious on top of a decaying corpse for two whole days, is described with such a stomach-churning clarity, that you can’t help but feel at least a little repulsed by the sheer vulgarity of the situation. Laymon’s descriptive talents come into their own here, painting such a vivid picture of the waking realisation for our narrator.
Once again Laymon doesn’t shy away from controversial angles for the plot to take on board, with incest and rape of minors thrown in for good measure. Indeed, not only do we have a particularly graphic scene of the sadomasochistic rape of a minor, but Laymon tops it all with our main character becoming aroused whilst viewing the act (a very brave addition for the author to include). This gutsy inclusion adds a further level to our principal character, allowing for an interesting emotional toil to form between reader and narrator.
The finale is exactly what you’d expect (and need) for a tale of this nature. Elaborate and horrifying, with even more twists of fate than you can shake a stick at. Laymon doesn’t disappoint once with the conclusion, wrapping the tale up perfectly to the very last sentence (indeed, the very final couple of sentences to the novel cleverly leave the reader chuckling with a last minute spin on our narrator’s personality).
All in all the novel is an utterly enjoyable read; packed with fast paced action, tension and unbelievable suspense that makes it a novel you will struggle to put down. Laymon never lets up with this non-stop rollercoaster of a ride, delivering one ultimatum after another for our very real-life hero.
The novel runs for a total of 346 pages.
© DLS Reviews