The Island by Adrian McKinty has been getting a lot of attention from well-respected authors and publishing industry types, and it’s very much deserved. His last standalone, The Chain, was equally well-received, winning Ned Kelly and Barry Awards on its release.
The Island has probably given me a better understanding of the type of writer he is. It’s certainly action-packed. It’s exciting. It’s fast paced. There’s some depth to the characters, though more to our protagonists than our antagonists. It reminded me very much of action-packed reads by Gregg Hurwitz and the recent borderline horror reads by Gabriel Bergmoser.
by Adrian McKinty
Published by Hachette
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
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.
Heather has been underestimated her entire life, but she knows that only she can bring her family home again and become the mother the children desperately need, even if it means doing the unthinkable to keep them all alive.
We’re offered a prologue here, and (as I commented in my review of The Chain), there’s a sense that it’s a spoiler so we know what’s coming – which I hate, but again he’s managed to fool us.
We then step back in time – albeit briefly – to the arrival of recently-married Americans Heather and Tom and his two teenagers, Owen and Olivia (via Alice Springs) to Melbourne where Tom’s speaking at a conference. We get a bit of backstory… Heather grew up on a remote island in a not-too-weird-kinda-cult. Her parents met in the army and dropped out of life thanks to the ravages of war.
We discover Tom’s wife recently died and his kids aren’t happy about their new step-mother. Heather is 20 years’ Tom’s junior, had tried a few jobs before working as a massage therapist (where she met Tom) and doesn’t shy away from telling us she liked the idea of being ‘taken care of’. Of course it helped that he’s successful and attractive.
We quickly learn Tom is also a simmerer. Heather references him trying to change his behaviour but there are moments he switches from an overprivileged Bruce Banner to the Incredible Hulk before getting his behaviour under control. Heather of course, is trying her hardest (ie. too hard) with the teenaged kids, though admits she begrudges the disruption to her peace and quiet they bring… often thinking how much easier life would be without them.
The kids’ desire to see some wildlife sends them on a drive out of town and they come across a couple of men who offer to take them to a private island (for a fee). Tom is happy to pay and an older couple they’ve come across journey with them. And (of course) this is where things go wrong.
An accident and several bad decisions result in the Baxters and their travelling companions being held against their will by a family with anger issues and no qualms about violence.
What comes next is essentially a fast-paced cat and mouse game as the Baxters try to elude their increasingly erratic and irate pursuers, knowing the only way back to the mainland – other than through the shark infested water – is via the ferry run by their captors.
Fans of adrenaline-pumping action movies will seriously love the scenes of the Baxter’s avoiding those chasing them by setting up traps and decoys and many (many) near-misses.
Some of the scenes are a smidge gory and graphic but help reflect the desperation of the chasers and chasees. #newword Early in the book Heather mentioned Wolf Creek and there are many references to Australia’s deadly spiders and snakes and outback serial killers so I guess I should have expected it.
Although the ‘chase’ itself and Survivor meets Rambo-on-a-rampage scenarios are of less interest to me*, there’s also another layer to this book and it’s the changing relationship between Heather and her stepchildren and with her husband. There are obvious messages about assumptions we make about people and their strengths. And I’m reminded of some quote or parable or similar about one’s true colours becoming evident when witnessing how someone acts in a crisis.
I enjoyed this read. It’s well written and seamlessly executed. There’s no fat to be trimmed so it’s effortless for readers to turn page after page. I think I this has already been optioned already for a Hulu series. I’m not quite sure about eking it out for a series, but it would be an excellent and explosive movie… requiring little to be added.
The Island by Adrian McKinty will be published in Australia by Hachette on 24 May 2022.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
* I tend to prefer the psychological twisty elements of thrillers. Here more evident in our protagonists than antagonists.