In the few months that the Arkham Digest has been around, many of the reviews posted have been positive. Terminal Island by Walter Greatshell is a book I was very eager to read, but unfortunately I am unable to give it a glowing recommendation. I will say that I did not hate the book. I did like it, but I did not love it, and at times I felt that the weaknesses outweighed the strengths.
The premise of the novel is promising; Henry Cadmus returns to an island he temporarily resided on as a child, in search of his estranged mother. The return is not easy, because his time spent on the island as a young boy is riddled with creepy, disturbing moments. A tourist island after tourist season, full of residents who all seem to belong to a Pagan-esque cult is a setting that I can totally dig. The premise is not a bad one either, and it’s the execution that I found the novel to be lacking.
None of the characters seemed to have much depth, and some seemed downright artificial (Ruby I’m looking at you). Henry is the only exception, and the only character that seems to have any dimension. On one level this helps to add to Henry’s sense of being alone on the island, as he is the only character that seems “real”, but mostly it just makes the story less engaging. When the plot threads come together it leads to a conclusion that just seems contrived, and by then it’s hard to really care about any of the characters anyway.
Despite these shortcomings, there are things I thought Greatshell did that worked very well. All of the chapters featuring young Henry stood out to me as the better parts of the book. Young Henry is treated to scene after scene of surreal horror, and I found some these to be the most tense, memorable scenes in the book. Later in the book there is a scene where a drugged Henry watches a psychadelic stage play that remains burned in my memory. Also, I enjoyed the concept as a whole, and was frequently reminded of The Wicker Man, which is a movie I'm quite fond of.
Overall the book was a quick read. Although I found myself to be disappointed, I would still say this book is worth a look, but will be more enjoyable without bringing along expectations. I do plan to keep an eye on the author to see what he does next, as I think there is a lot of potential there.