The Island

The Island 1a

Written by: Adrian McKinty
Published by: Orion Books
Available as: Hardcover | eBook | Audiobook

Synopsis: After moving from a small country town to Seattle, Heather Baxter marries Tom, a widowed doctor with a young son and teenage daughter. A working vacation overseas seems like the perfect way to bring the new family together, but once they’re deep in the Australian outback, the jet-lagged and exhausted kids are so over their new mom.

When they discover remote Dutch Island, off-limits to outside visitors, the family talks their way onto the ferry, taking a chance on an adventure far from the reach of iPhones and Instagram. But as soon as they set foot on the island, which is run by a tightly knit clan of locals, everything feels wrong. Then a shocking accident propels the Baxters from an unsettling situation into an absolute nightmare.

When Heather and the kids are separated from Tom, they are forced to escape alone, seconds ahead of their pursuers. Now it’s up to Heather to save herself and the kids, even though they don’t trust her, the harsh bushland is filled with danger, and the locals want her dead.

My first experience of reading Adrian McKinty’s work came from his immensely popular novel The Chain, which was a standalone thriller that had the unique hook of parents being forced to kidnap other children in order to rescue their own in a perverse ‘chain letter’ scheme. His latest release, The Island, tackles more familiar thriller territory with a group of tourists cut off from civilisation and struggling to survive against crazed locals and the land itself. McKinty openly acknowledges inspirations Deliverance and Wolf Creek in the book itself, and it’s interesting that the story came from the extrapolation of real-world near-miss. I have recently read and reviewed Gabriel Bergmoser’s excellent thriller, The Hunted, which shared many of the same themes, albeit with more of a The Most Dangerous Game vibe, so it was interesting to leap back into the world of isolationist horror – a genre that particularly unsettles me as a firmly city-dwelling individual.

The Island opens up with one of the most gripping prologues I’ve read in recent years, piling on the suspense with a spectacular ‘in media res’ sequence that becomes unbearably tense before transitioning to the events that led up to that scene. It’s a great introduction to the book and gives us readers a glimpse at the survival horror waiting to unfold. Not just a master at creating tension, McKinty also does a brilliant job with characterisation, giving us some complex protagonists that appear unlikeable at first – even to each other. Heather struggles to adapt to the role of step-mom to the two stroppy teens she has inherited, whilst her aloof husband focuses on his career. When events force her to become responsible for the children’s very survival, she must become the guardian she has always been reluctant to be.

Heather is a great lead character and her development feels earned throughout the book as she goes on a journey of self-discovery, finding the inner strength she’d denied herself. Through their hardships, the makeshift family come together and grow stronger bonds and it feels like a natural development. Rather than having the locals of Dutch Island inherently evil from the outset, McKinty makes the events stem from one tragic accident that becomes compounded by further misunderstandings and bad decisions. It shows just how different society becomes outside of the rules and boundaries set by civilisation – on an island with one family in control, their word is the law and that is terrifying. It reminded me of the Netflix thriller Calibre and that ‘eye for an eye’ mentality that is prevalent in small communities.

The novel is extremely well-paced and difficult to put down once it hits a decent momentum. The feeling of being cut off from civilisation and being hunted down on an island is reminiscent of the recent pop culture zeitgeist, evoking comparisons to Fortnite, The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. Heather’s attempts to keep one step ahead of her pursuers are extremely engaging and cinematic, so it comes as no surprise to discover that Hulu has already picked up the rights to develop The Island into a TV miniseries. The novel has plenty of twists and turns, and McKinty ratchets up the tension by having his protagonists outnumbered and trapped without any resources.

The Island is one of those books that will leave you breathless as you race through the chapters to the end. While it lacks the same genius hook as The Chain, it is another demonstration of McKinty’s knack for generating nail-biting moments of dread. Its familiarity to other stories of a similar type doesn’t diminish the thrills found within and it is a solid example of survival horror that doesn’t revert to the typical tropes of hillbillies or inbred lunatics. The family hunting down the Baxters are frighteningly normal, which makes things even more terrifying than a chainsaw-wielding psychopath.

Score – ★★★★

The Island is available as an eBook from Amazon Kindle, or collected in a physical format on Amazon and all good bookstores. Adrian McKinty’s previous novel, The Chain is also still available.

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